HL Deb 22 November 1955 vol 194 cc708-31

4.8 p.m.

VISCOUNT ASTOR rose to call attention to matters arising from the disappearance of Mr. Burgess and Mr. Maclean (Cmd. 9577); and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, since I put down my Motion this distressing matter has been considered in another place, and it has been put to me politely that to have this debate to-day is perhaps inopportune. However, I have carefully searched my conscience on the matter and I feel it would be wrong that this subject should not be discussed in your Lordships' House. It is a matter that is irrelevant to Party but of the utmost importance to the State, when treason apparently is esconced for many years in the very centre of a great policy-making Department, and where conduct unworthy of officers and gentlemen is tolerated for a considerable time. I am aware that on our side the Whip apparently considers disappearing diplomats less important than reappearing rabbits; but I am surprised that noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, who were in power at the time, are not proposing to speak in this debate.

I was induced to go on with this Motion because of the somewhat unsatisfactory character of the debate in another place. Although the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made remarkably eloquent debating speeches, there were many questions left unanswered which, if full confidence is to be restored, had better be answered once and for all. If there is to be this private meeting of Privy Counsellors, surely it is right that the opinion of this House should be known to them. And should we not know that certain questions will be considered? I would ask the noble Marquess who is to reply for the Government to tell us whether those Privy Counsellors will make a report which will be debatable in this House in due course.

That this matter has gone on as long as it has done is largely the Government's own fault. In the early stages of this sad affair they seemed concerned more to hide the truth than to uncover it. Answers given here and elsewhere gave the minimum of information. Inquiries, journalistic and others, were discouraged. But, surely, the sad affair of Crichel Down should have shown the Government that nowadays the affairs of great Departments cannot be carried on veiled in mystery, and that it is far better to get the truth out and finished with than to try to save prestige by hiding it. I think it is particularly unfortunate that the Minister of State should have used the phrase "witch hunt" for those who were trying to find the truth. The term "witch hunt" got into disrepute because the existence, let alone the prevalence, of witches was a highly hypothetical and uncertain matter. On the other hand, Communists are not uncertain and hypothetical. Nor are traitors, any more than murderers or burglars. To try to uncover treason is as much a duty as it is to prevent burglary, and the honest attempt to clear up these matters should never have been stigmatised by the highly questionable phrase, "witch hunt."

We then had the White Paper, which was like the magistrate, in the sad affair of young Albert, and the lion, who seemed to come to the conclusion that "No-one was really to blame." If the Government had come forward with honest apologies, and had said that great mistakes had been made, that the responsibility was taken and changes had been made, it would have been far better than that curious White Paper which was criticised by all the organs of the Press, including those most favourable to the Government. I think we have seen from these sad events that there has been a lowering of the discipline and standard of conduct in the public service which would never have been tolerated in the old days. That is quite apart from any question of treasonable conduct. This question of the standard of conduct of people in representative capacity is as important as the other question of extreme Left Wing opinions leading to treason.

The cases of these two gentlemen were quite different. I do not want to talk further about the terrible behaviour of Mr. Maclean in Egypt. What Mr. Roberts said was true, and a great deal more, too. What was surprising was that, after this behaviour, he should have been appointed to an important department in the Foreign Office. It is ridiculous to pretend that the American department deals only with sending ballet dancers to Bolivia: it is a most important department. The head of a great department in the Foreign Office sees the flow of papers on all sub- jects, and this ridiculous "playing down" of the matter did no credit to anybody. What was curious was that after this gentleman had had this very bad record in Egypt, not only was he appointed to an important department but he continued that extraordinary standard of conduct in this country. He used to go out in the evenings and get disgustingly drunk at a certain club. He twice engaged in drunken brawls with former Left Wing friends, in one of which they were rolling on the floor. This was the head of the American department of the Foreign Office. In each case the cause of his attack on these gentlemen was that they had betrayed their former extreme Left Wing opinions.

The question I want to ask the Government is: Did the Foreign Office know of this conduct and tolerate it, or were they ignorant? If they were ignorant, it is hard to believe that they live in such an ivory tower. Can one imagine the colonel of a regiment, the general manager of a bank or the head of a university not knowing about such conduct among important subordinates about whom they had already been warned? I am afraid that what happened was that the view taken was: "As long as you do your work properly, what you do in your spare time is your own business." But surely people, whether they are Members of Parliament or diplomats, who are in a capacity representative of their fellow citizens should have a higher standard of personal conduct, whether they are in their office or not, than those who engage in purely commercial and private pursuits. We want the answer. Was this conduct known and tolerated, or was it not known? At no moment in the House of Commons debate was it said that this form of conduct cannot be passed over among people who hold important public office.

In the case of Mr. Burgess, he came into the Foreign Office; "through a side door." I think it only right to the memory of Hector McNeil that I should say there was no more loyal person than Hector McNeil: he was the last person who would have consciously tolerated treason in any form. I am one of the few people who never knew Guy Burgess, and apparently I missed a lot. By all accounts, he was one of the most amusing and clever conversationalists there was, who charmed a great many people. But he was a drunken, dirty and a sexual pervert. He had been ever since his school days. He made no pretence about it, either in his conversation or his conduct. Now the question I ask is: Did the Foreign Office know about his peculiarities and tolerate them, or were they the only people who did not know about them? At no moment was it said in the House of Commons debate that people with this unfortunate habit are not suitable for confidential positions in the public service or to go abroad in a representative capacity.

I am not one of those who takes the view that the homosexual is a criminal. Those of us who are lucky enough to be normal should, I think, have nothing but pity for people in that situation. But when it is a crime, and when it brings a country into disrepute or lays a person open to blackmail, surely it should be laid down quite clearly that people of those characteristics should not be used in the Foreign Service. If we are to regain full confidence in the Service, which should never have been lost, we must have assurances that there is a tightened discipline and a most careful recruitment. I think the members of the Socialist Party in the House of Commons who wanted an inquiry into the recruitment of the Foreign Service were, on this occasion, hunting the wrong fox.

The only thing that might be said as a result of some inquiry is, of course, that "More care must be taken that people of Left opinions do not get in." That is all wrong. No sensible person should say that civil servants should all be Conservatives; but what we can say—and it should be pointed out to the Civil Service Commission—is that character is as important as cleverness. That was completely ignored in the cases of these two men. We also want to be assured that the system of confidential reports has been improved. If there had been a system of confidential reports such as that to which those of us who were in the Navy submitted, these gentlemen would not have lasted for more than a very short time It must have been a bad system, laxly applied, with low standards. We must be assured that it has improved.

Turning from personal contact to the subject of Communism. I think it is remarkable how slow in this country we have been in realising the theory of Communism and its importance. We are practical people; we cannot understand that people of other nations, habits and thoughts put theory above facts. In Communism we see an expression of Russian nationalism or of agrarian reform in China. We say that surely the third generation are looking after their comforts and their vodka and are not devoted to theoretical Communism—as if people who have known nothing but theoretical Communism, who have been stuffed with it educationally from their youth, could not be as strong Communists as their predecessors. It is only by reading the abominably dull works of Communists, as dull as Hitler's Mein Kampf, that we can learn about them. And if our enemies write such dull books, we cannot persuade the British people to read them. We do not know the full horror of what we are up against because of the sheer dullness of Das Kapital and Mein Kampf.

But those people are dedicated enemies with no standards of honour, no patriotism as we know it, no possibility of compromise. They despise socialists even more than they despise capitalists; and the first thing they do in any country is to put all socialists and trade union leaders into concentration camps. We have to recognise that, for the first time since the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, we have a fifth column in this country, a fifth column that has penetrated, apparently, the highest ranks of the Civil Service, the scientists and even the Church. We are neither at peace nor at war but are in a cold war in which we cannot judge by the normal standards of peace the measures which it is right to take. While the Prime Minister's peroration was remarkably effective. I could not help thinking that, if we were betrayed by Communists and should go down, it would be rather ironical to think that, if the Prime Minister met the Foregn Secretary in the corridors of the Lubianka prison, after a particularly grilling and horrible interrogation, he might say: "But in any case, my dear Harold, we did nothing to interfere with the liberties of British Communists."

We have to face the fact that we are in a cold war. We have to look at our traditional practices from that point of view. The first thing about which the Committee of Privy Counsellors has to make sure is that no organisation or body of men should consider itself above security. In the past, the atomic establishment at Harwell would have nothing to do with M.I.5. The highly elite organisations feel: "We know each other so well; we are all such good chaps and there is no need for security procedures." We must be assured that that attitude has ceased. Secondly, we must be assured that security gets full co-operation from all Government Departments. It should not be regarded as "the fellow with false whiskers who is a bit of a bore and tells silly tales," but should have full access to the heads of Departments and should be considered seriously. All of us who are ever concerned with naval, military or other intelligence have considerable sympathy with St. Paul when he wrote "Who hath believed our report?"

I do not think that the change we make need be large or drastic. The Prime Minister rather over-dramatised the issue. I feel sure that there is no need for powers to arrest people on suspicion. No one has proposed that. The power to question a civil servant would be quite sufficient, because if anybody refused to be questioned it would show an immediate guilty conscience, and the right deductions would be drawn. We must be assured that the security service has ample facilities, in men and money, as well as the appropriate technical means at its disposal. That needs to be assured to us. There is one liberty which is a very uncertain one, and I hope this Committee of Privy Counsellors will pay attention to it—that is: is there an undisputed right to leave this country? Is a passport a privilege or a right? We have had contradictory answers from Government spokesmen on this point. I have been told by a member of the Cabinet, since these discussions began, that anybody could leave this country without a passport. I had to go to France, and when I tried, the following Sunday, to leave without a passport I was very politely told by the Scotland Yard man at London Airport that, if I did not produce a passport, he would not allow me to leave. I said that he had no right, and he replied that he knew that but still I was not going to catch the aeroplane. He was absolutely right. I told him why I had tested him.


The noble Lord can leave without a passport if he goes to Newhaven.


I am well aware that there are some passportless excursion trips.


I have been on one.


I congratulate the noble Lord, and I hope he enjoyed himself. To return to the point, should there be an unlimited right of leaving this country with or without a passport? Does it exist? Should it exist? Just think of the liberties which we have given up: you cannot cut down a tree, you cannot remodel a cottage, you cannot build a cow-house, without somebody's permission; a diplomat cannot write his memoirs; you cannot float an issue; you cannot do anything 'without permission. Should there be this complete right of anybody, in any circumstance, possessing confidential information, to walk out of this country? Surely that is a point which deserves attention. Whether it is right to have these passportless excursions in which the noble Lord has indulged, and whether it is one of the liberties which, in the minds of all, should not be curtailed, is a question to which I hope the Privy Counsellors will address themselves.

My Lords, to return to the Diplomatic Service, there is no doubt that this affair has been a severe blow to the prestige which the Diplomatic Service and the Foreign Office should, and deserve to, have. Nowadays one of the troubles is the lack of respect for prestige. It was easy enough to say that the fact that a person was a Peer or was rich did not mean he was better than anybody else. As a result, there has grown up among the public a feeling that everybody is as good as anybody else, and that people in the Diplomatic Service are no better than they. It has become a subject for musical hall jokes and' so forth. I think one of the important points is to re-establish that prestige which has been harmed. In my view, the Foreign Office must consider its public relations in the general sense—the way it meets the public in different spheres, whether it be a person who goes casually to ask for information, the business man or the journalist. I submit that we are doing no harm to this great Service, the vast majority of whose members have been the most disinterested public servants imaginable, in raising this debate so that these points may be cleared up, and so that in future we can be quite certain that the Service is living up to its high traditions. I beg to move for Papers.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for my rashness in addressing your Lordships a second time in one afternoon, but this is an occasion when necessity knows no law. I do not want to follow the noble Viscount in the broad survey which he has given you, ably wandering about the various paths of security. I want to put my remarks in the form of one rather simple question. Apparently, the names of Burgess and Maclean have been indissolubly linked together because both ran away from the country at the same time. When we consider Maclean, Her Majesty's Government appear to have a pretty considerable amount of evidence that Maclean had been acting as an agent for a foreign Power for quite a long time. But I wonder whether we have the same knowledge about Burgess. Certainly, upon the occasion when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs spoke in another place, I think on November 7, he declared upon two occasions that at no time before Burgess left was he under suspicion. Furthermore, in reply to a Question, the Minister said that there was no suspicion on the part of the authorities against Burgess. But that does not mean that Burgess may not have been conscious of his own guilt, and therefore felt that the best thing to do would be to be off. That may well be correct. But there are one or two other alternatives which I feel we should, in fairness, consider.

Before I come to them I should like to mention three things about Burgess: first, that he ran away with Maclean; secondly, he was known to have Communist sympathies, even when a young man; thirdly, nothing has come out in the White Paper issued by Her Majesty's Government, though there is a possibility that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, may have some additional facts which have not yet emerged. There may be two alternatives which may be worth con- sidering, in the case of this unfortunate and stupid man. One is that, as a result of his stay in the United States, he came back here, returned to his former allegiance, and took the opportunity of going to the country of his choice. I think it is fair to say of a person with the curious, unsettled, paranoic mind of Maclean, that perhaps he thought war between the two countries was inevitable, and that he might be able to do something by going to Russia or vanishing from this country. Officially, neither I nor anybody else knows where he has gone, but at any rate he may have gone to do something to prevent war from taking place. I put forward that suggestion to the noble Marquess, but I shall quite understand if he says that he has no further information, and I certainly shall not press him if he says that he has information which he cannot disclose because of security reasons.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long. I am not going to approach this subject from the angle adopted by my noble friend Lord Astor; I am going to take a more general line. I am glad that he has brought this noble House into this question. I have felt that for us deliberately to ignore what has taken place would not do us any good and would damage the prestige of the House. Undoubtedly this whole episode has been a dreadful blow to Government prestige, not only here but in foreign countries as well. I think it essential that both Houses should show the strongest support for the proposal of the Prime Minister to set up a committee of Privy Counsellors. I hope that the terms of reference will be as wide and comprehensive as possible, so that the committee can really get down to the roots of this question. Beyond doubt, it appears that Ministers were not given information which they should have had. From what I have heard, not only in this House but elsewhere, that is a point that has impressed me.

In regard to the traitorous side of the matter, any nation may have "bad eggs," but we must do every thing we can to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. If we look back, we find that it has happened five times before. Five men have been caught out as traitors to their country. To me, the most important thing is that we should do all we can to see that men of such low character and with such well-known reputations should never be promoted to represent this country again. The respectable world—part of it is still respectable, I think—expects this of us. Do not let us be misled by what I am afraid I must look upon as nonsense—the allegations of "witch-hunting" and "McCarthyism." I feel confident that this House will be rendering a great service to the nation by taking a strong view on this whole matter. Our future must be secured in the hands of worthy men. I commend those few thoughts to your Lordships for your sympathetic consideration.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, in examining this scandalous affair to-day our purpose should be severely practical. Nobody would wish to probe the wounds of a great and honourable Service except for the purpose of finding out what went wrong in order to make it as certain as possible that similar mistakes will not again be made. II should certainly not take part in this debate but for two considerations: the defects and contradictions of the White Paper and the fact that these have not been wholly remedied or removed by the fine speeches of my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister on November 7. The two principal points to which I wish to direct your Lordships' attention are, first, the appointment of Maclean to be head of the American Department of the Foreign Office in October, 1950; and, secondly, his flight from the country on May 25, 1951, without let or hindrance. I believe that both these events cast discredit upon the authorities and that the reasons hitherto given in explanation or excuse will not bear examination.

To deal first with Maclean's appointment, he was appointed to be head of this Department five months after his serious misconduct in Cairo. My first regret concerning the White Paper is that it does not tell us what that misconduct was. I do not think that the omission can be on security grounds. Had the White Paper set out clearly and definitely what the misconduct in Cairo was, then the public, and both Houses, would be in a better position to judge whether it was reasonable or unreasonable to give this man further employment. But if the White Paper does not state what that misconduct in Cairo was, a Privy Counsellor in another place, winding up the debate for the Opposition, gave particulars of it; and the Prime Minister, who followed him, did not question the accuracy of what was said. I would not make too much of that, but unless the noble Marquess corrects the particulars given by that Privy Counsellor I shall assume that those particulars were, in substance, true. I would also point out to your Lordships that the Privy Counsellor said that the matter of which he gave full particulars was only one among others, two of which he identified sufficiently to indicate to Her Majesty's Government what he had in mind.

I believe that if a man employed by any business or industrial concern had behaved in this way he would have been instantly dismissed altogether from his employment. I believe that the same is true of the fighting Services. If I am wrong in the assumption that he would have been dismissed altogether, I submit that one thing is absolutely certain: he would not have beer given a new post without searching inquiries into all that was known about him, and into the probable cause of his breakdown—if breakdown it was that caused the misconduct. Why was it assumed, in this case, that this man's misconduct had a purely physical explanation? Everybody who has made the smallest study of Communism must know that the Communists will seek to have agents in the Foreign Office and in other Departments. We very much hope that their attempt to secure such agents will be frustrated; but that they will make the attempt we know. If they succeeded in having an agent in such a Department as the Foreign Office, what could we expect? Is it not obvious that their agent would be a man subjected to very great strain? If a breakdown of this nature occurs within the public service, the possibility of a mental cause should not be excluded without inquiry. Had adequate inquiries been made at the time of the breakdown. Maclean's earlier Communist sympathies would have been discovered then and net later.

Let me say at once that I agree with honourable and right honourable members of another place and noble Lords on both sides of the House that the activities or political leanings of a man in his university days need not he fatal to him in after life; of course not. But they may have to be inquired into, and in this case they were inquired into—but after these men had fled from the country. I submit with some confidence that those aspects should have been inquired into after the events in Cairo and before Maclean was appointed to another position.

In the debate in another place it was said that there was no suspicion, at that time, regarding his loyalty: but why not? Since January, 1949, it had been known that there had been a leak of information from the Foreign Office to the Soviet authorities and, therefore, that someone in the Foreign Office might have been disloyal. I should also like to remind your Lordships that in January, 1950, some time before these events, Alger Hiss had been found guilty at his second trial in the United States; so the possibility of treachery in high places was certainly vigorously brought to the mind of authorities in all countries. What excuse was there for not considering treachery as a possible explanation of the strain to which this man's misconduct was attributed? After his misconduct in Cairo he should either have been dismissed at once or, at the least, the most searching inquiries should have been made before he was given a further post. Incidentally, was it wise to treat the post of head of the American Department of the Foreign Office as of minor importance? There are two disadvantages in such a course: first, the Americans will not believe us, and, secondly, they would be very much insulted if they did. It really will not do to say that the Foreign Office acted as a good employer in giving him a further post of responsibility without searching inquiries. It simply is not true that a good employer places kindness to a servant above public safety.

Let me pass now to his escape on May 25, 1951. By that time, your Lordships will recall, he was the principal suspect in a very grave matter. Your Lordships will also recall that it had been decided that the security authorities should question him in the hope of a confession or statement which would support a criminal prosecution. Let me say at once that I fully accept what the Government say about the importance of not alarming him prematurely and the difficulty or impos- sibility of an arrest at that time. Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not asking for any change in the law that would remove or modify the presumption of innocence or justify imprisonment without a charge. But does it really follow that nothing could have been done to prevent him from leaving the country before he had been questioned? I submit that it ought not to have been beyond the means and the skill of the security services to watch the principal ports and to take his passport from him as he went aboard the ship.

I revert to passports again for a moment because the noble Viscount. Lord Astor, alluded to them, and I think there has been some confusion about the law upon this subject. Fortunately the law was explained accurately and recently in this House by the noble Marquess who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government when he answered a Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on the first of this month. The reply made it absolutely clear that the property in a passport had been and remained the property of the Government, or the property of the Crown, and no person could complain if it was taken from him. I dismiss at once the question of taking it from this man before he got to the port because, of course, that would have alarmed him. I merely say that it ought to have been taken from him before he went aboard. I say that the law was accurately stated by the noble Marquess, but it was, inadvertently, wrongly stated by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In an extempore intervention in another place the Foreign Secretary wrongly assumed that some legal process would have been necessary to remove the man's passport.

It may be urged, of course—and this was admitted by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor—that if the passport had been removed he could, nevertheless, have left the country if the shipping line had been willing to carry him without one. That is true. I do not think the deprivation of a passport would have meant in law that he could have been prevented from leaving this country. But the lack of a passport would have made a very great difference to his being admitted into any other country when the boat arrived on the other side. It seems to me quite useless to say that there was any legal necessity for allowing him to leave the country in this way without any let or hindrance. I cannot believe that the Government will seriously contend that they could not legally have prevented Maclean from going abroad in possession of his passport, and I am bound to point out that my view of this matter appears to have been shared by the draftsman of the White Paper. I ask the House to permit me to read the first sentence of paragraph 13. This runs: Immediately the flight was known all possible action was taken in the United Kingdom and the French and other Continental security authorities were asked to trace the whereabouts of the fugitives and if possible to intercept them. Well, my Lords, what is the legal principle which makes it quite impossible to prevent these men from leaving the United Kingdom but makes it easily possible to intercept them abroad when they have landed? I confess that the legal principle evades me. Perhaps the noble Marquess when he replies will make this matter clear. I have heard of only two possible suggestions to account for this discrepancy between the statement that nothing could have stopped them from leaving and the statement in the White Paper that when they had left every effort was made to intercept them.

I have heard two suggested possible explanations —neither, I may say, from a lawyer. The first was that the flight provided that additional proof which was needed as prima facie evidence of Maclean's guilt. But that will not do as an explanation, because, of course, that part of the evidence was complete at the moment he went aboard. The other suggestion was that when he was abroad, after at least a clay or so, he had overstayed his leave from the Foreign Office. That does not really sound to me like an extraditable offence. I am bound to point out the difficulty of this explanation, in the unlikely event of the Government's wishing to resort to it—my noble friend indicates that he will not resort to it. It would, of course, be quite untenable because the passage I have read from the White Paper applies not only to Maclean but to Burgess as well, and he was not overstaying his leave. In fact, they were wishing to get rid of him from the Foreign Office.

I am not going to say much about Burgess but I would draw your Lordships' attention to one passage in the White Paper. After stating that Burgess was asked to resign from the Foreign Service, we get at the end of paragraph 7 of the White Paper this statement: Consideration was being given to the steps that would be taken in the event of his refusing to do so. It was at this point that he disappeared. I am bound to say that it is interesting to speculate in what position we should next have found him had he refused to resign and not disappeared. Before I leave the question of Guy Burgess entirely I should like to say that I am also a little astonished at the naivété of the White Paper in saying that he apparently lost his Left Wing interests—indeed he was known after leaving Cambridge to have had some contact with organisations such as the Anglo-German Club. I hope it may have occurred to the security services that he, possibly, did that under instructions.

There is only one other matter to which I wish to refer. In a very fine speech, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary dealt with some of the grim facts of the conflict in which we find ourselves and he referred to the New ideological conflicts which divide the world. My Lords, the only word in that to which I object is the word "new." New, indeed, they are, if we are considering our whole lifetime, but they were not very new in 1950. I hope I shall be excused if I attach some importance to this matter. For many years I have done my best, by speech and writing, in Parliament, and outside it, to draw attention to the Communist menace. For twelve years the Communists have proceeded with terrifying success towards the achievement of their proclaimed purpose, the conquest and enslavement of the world. In that progress they have had many triumphs and a few setbacks. Possibly in some Foreign Affairs debate we may consider that topic further. The most astonishing minor success which they have had was one to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, alluded—their astonishing success in applying the term "witch hunt" to the search for Communist agents. As my noble friend pointed out, the term "witch hunt" has an ugly connotation, because we do not now believe that there were witches and therefore hold that the search for witches who did not exist was an excuse for tyranny and persecution. Does anyone seriously believe that Communist agents do not exist? Of course, they exist and are dangerous. I agree that, in seeking to discover them, Governments can act wisely or unwisely, can act with due respect for human liberty or act with tyranny; but let us abandon at least the use of so misleading and question-begging a term as "witch hunt" as applied to the search for Communist agents.

The use of this term can have some amusing results. I have in my hand, and I should be happy to show it to your Lordships, a fascinating cartoon that appeared in the New Statesman of October 1 of this year. It depicts two witches riding on broomsticks and underneath is written, McCarthyism's dead, huh? Perhaps we can cash in on this Macleanism… the cartoonist of the New Statesman being under the illusion that a witch hunt was not a hunt for witches but a hunt by witches.

As the result of these events, various inquiries have been suggested. It has been suggested that there might be an inquiry into recruitment to the Foreign Service. I cannot think why, and on that matter I agree entirely with what has been said by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. It has been suggested that there should be some general inquiry into our security service. I confess that I do not see such a necessity. That is, perhaps, 'because I have confidence in Her Majesty's Government and know that this is a matter on which they will satisfy themselves without an inquiry. There is one matter, and one matter alone, on which I think there should be the most direct and careful inquiry—that is, into the events of this specific case.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Astor said that he wrestled with his conscience on this point, I want to say strongly that I think he was right to retain his Motion on the Order Paper. It is true that since he first put it down we have had a White Paper, and that since the White Paper there have been important statements and developments elsewhere. We now know much more than we did before: we know that there has been a progressive tightening of security arrangements; we know, too, that a small and formal conference of Privy Counsellors is about to consider what further precautions are needed. I am sure that all of us to-day have had these facts truly in mind and none of us has wanted to go into the past or to make an attack on the Government or the Foreign Office or anybody else, except in so far as it seems to us necessary in order to ensure, so far as we can, that any additional precautions that are needed will in fact be taken in future. I think, too, that it may be said of all who have spoken to-day—and I hope it will be true of myself—that we are careful of the dangers of hindsight in looking at and criticising the action, or inaction, of any authority at a particular moment. We shall be careful to take into account only what was known, or could reasonably have been known, at that time and not judge them in the light of later events of which we have subsequently been informed.

Why then is it desirable, after the information we have had, to have this debate? First because, as the speeches which have already been made have shown, there are certain questions unanswered which ought to be answered. If they cannot be answered in public in this House, at least they ought to be answered in private for those who are about to conduct an investigation. Secondly, because it is just at the moment at which this informal but authoritative conference is about to take place that it is most useful for us to express any opinions we have; and thirdly, because, when national security is involved, as it is in this problem, I think it is only right that this House should make its contribution and should do so by means of a discussion held under the particular and distinctive traditions of discussion in this House.

I am not concerned with the cases of these two officials as such. All I care about is the light that they throw on the two continuing problems of the public service, first how to ensure that officials are not retained in positions of trust when they have shown themselves unsuitable, by faults of misconduct, or in temperament; secondly, how to act in the much rarer, but very important, case of suspected treachery or disloyalty. In offering reflections on these two I shall confine myself to the case of Maclean and to two stages only of that case—the Cairo affair of 1950 and the disloyalty inquiry of April-May, 1951. The earlier of these illustrates the first of the two problems I have mentioned, and the later one illustrates the second. For convenience may I call them Maclean, 1950, and Maclean, 1951? I apologise if to some extent I have to cover some of the same ground that has been covered by those who have preceded me, but it will be from a slightly different angle.

I come now to the first question, Maclean, 1950—the decision to reinstate Maclean in October, 1950, after his serious misconduct in May of that year, and to make him head of the American Department. I realise that at that time the Foreign Office had no suspicion of treachery or disloyalty. I shall not discuss now, though others may, whether they could reasonably have been expected to have such a suspicion at that time. I only ask now whether, on what was admittedly known of his conduct, it was right to reinstate him. As my noble friend Lord Conesford has said, the White Paper does not give us details of the Cairo incident. However, these details were given in horrifying detail by a Privy Counsellor in another place, and so far this account has not been denied or, I think, seriously questioned. If that account is true, does it not certainly show that the man who was guilty of such conduct was really unsuitable by temperament and personal habit to occupy a high position of trust in the Diplomatic Service? I agree with my noble friend Lord Conesford that it really will not do to say that he was appointed to a position of no great importance, a department dealing with routine and welfare, and, as has been said elsewhere, that he was not in a position to deal with questions of major policy. Our concern is not that a Foreign Secretary was guided in his decisions on major policy by advice from Maclean; but that, after what Maclean had disclosed of his character and conduct. he should then be put in a position in which most certainly he had access to the most secret papers, and in which personal relations requiring personal discretion were involved.

Having that in mind, I want to ask, first of all, whether when this incident took place in Cairo in 1950, the Embassy there gave full information as to what had happened to the Foreign Office. Secondly, if they did, or when the Foreign Office learnt of the events, did they then take the trouble, in the five months which elapsed between the incident and the time of reinstatement, to see if there was evidence as to whether or not this was indeed a solitary lapse, or whether similar lapses, showing similar faults, had occurred in the past? Thirdly, when they had reinstated him, I ask whether in the light of what was known about Cairo, they took special steps to see if in the subsequent months between then and the Spring of 1951 there was any similar recurrence of behaviour. As I say, I think these questions ought to be asked and answered, if not now at least for the meeting of the Privy Counsellors. I think that is sufficient to illustrate my first criticism about 1950, which does not concern the question of treachery and disloyalty—and for the purpose of my argument here I am accepting as fact that nothing was then known or (though I doubt it) could reasonably have been known, to give grave suspicion of disloyalty.

I want to press home this point of what is done when an officer has behaved, and is known to have behaved, in a way that, on the face of it, shows him to be unsuitable for a position of public trust. There was a reference made in another place to what is the duty of a good employer. I think that is an extraordinarily dangerous doctrine to apply to a case of this kind. What is the duty of a good employer depends a great deal on the character of the misconduct and on the character of the work which the individual is doing. If the employer is concerned with the foreign relations and foreign prestige and reputation of this country, if the misconduct is of such a kind as was in this case known to have taken place, surely it is monstrous not to recognise that the first duty of the employer is to his country and to the Service, and not to the admittedly flagrantly guilty employee. I am not now pursuing this same point, though I think: I might, in regard to Burgess; I am content to take Maclean for the purpose of discussing this question.

I wish also to suggest that there is an important distinction as to the grounds upon which action should be taken between the appointment and retention in office of a public official, on the one hand, and, on the other, the grounds upon which a court would convict a man of a criminal offence. Of course, I do not mean that rumour or baseless suspicion should be sufficient to deal with the first case; we all realise the dangers and injustice of that. But if, in the careful judgment of those in a position to inquire and assess an officer's conduct in the public service, and with due safeguards against arbitrary or purely individual decision, it is clear that an officer has shown himself not to be qualified for a position of trust, surely it is essential that he should be removed, even though, on the evidence available, he would not be convicted in a court of a criminal offence. I wish to press that distinction strongly. So much for Maclean, 1950.

I now come to Maclean, 1951. In January, 1949, it was known that there was a serious leakage of Foreign Office information. By mid-April, 1951, the field of suspicion had been narrowed from 6,000 people down to two or three persons. By the beginning of May, Maclean had come to be regarded as the principal suspect, even though there was no legally admissible evidence to support an actual prosecution. At that time (we do not know the precise date, but I presume the early weeks of 1951), papers to which Maclean had previously had access were withheld from him. I want to direct your Lordships' attention to that point. Then on May 25 the then Secretary of State sanctioned a proposal that the security authorities should question him. During this period of days, or perhaps' a few weeks, during which papers which he had been accustomed to receiving were withheld from him, apparently he was not watched at all except in London. He was not watched in the country, nor was any watch kept at the airports or seaports in case he should attempt to flee the country. I ask: Why not? Why in these last days, at least, from the moment when the papers were withheld, was a continuous watch not kept on an officer who was by then certainly believed to be guilty of treachery, after a careful inquiry conducted over two years which had narrowed the field of suspicion from 6,000 to one?

Two reasons are given. The first is that it would have increased the danger that he would suspect and be more likely to flee. Are we really expected to accept that? Maclean, whatever else he was, was a highly intelligent man. Did the Foreign Office really think that, when papers he had previously been receiving for years were suddenly withheld from him, he did not begin to ask himself whether he was under suspicion? Would the most discreet watch that could have been made when he was in the country, or a watch at the ports, in case he might go there, have seriously added to the danger that he would have suspected and changed his conduct accordingly? Really we cannot accept that.

The second reason given—and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has dealt with it—is that anyhow he could not have been kept in the country. Can we really accept that? Supposing that he and Burgess had been followed to the ports and had been seen to be about to embark at Southampton on the night of May 25; or supposing watch had been kept at the ports, and when these two people presented themselves they had been stopped, because they were the people for whom instructions had been given to watch, could nothing have been done then? Is it really impossible that they could have been asked to give up their passports—a request which they were very unlikely to have refused? But even if they could not have been stopped there, supposing they had gone with their passports, was it not possible to telephone to the French authorities at St. Malo?—because whatever may be the doubt as to the legal powers that the British Government had to keep these men in, there can be no question whatever that the French Government had ample power to keep them out, and they could have been returned. Then the main question of disloyalty would have been solved. The very fact that these two men had been fleeing together would have answered the question, and any remaining doubt, though it was a very small doubt at that moment. on the part of those who were conducting the investigation, would have been removed.

I press this point, partly because I can hardly believe that the Executive could not find in their existing powers a way of dealing with such a case, but also to suggest that, if it was indeed impossible, then a short, simple amendment of the law to till up this gap in the Executive's powers would be quite easy, and would not involve any infringement of personal rights. The law could provide, for example, a right to bar the exit for a limited period, subject perhaps to a certificate given by an authority other than that of the employing department—let us say, the Home Secretary—that there was grave ground of suspicion with which he was concerned. I do not press that point hard, because I find it difficult to believe that, had the Government really known that these men were getting on this ship, they could not have stopped them.

I have taken these two cases, and these only, because they illustrate the two kinds of danger against which I think any new procedure must provide. Maclean, 1951, is perhaps the rare case—but when it occurs it is, of course, an extremely important case—of treachery and disloyalty. Both problems exist not only and not mainly in relation to the Foreign Office, but in the Civil Service and, indeed, the public service as a whole. Treachery is rare, and doubtless is less likely in the older Departments than in some of the new extensions of the public service; but it is possible anywhere and, as we have been reminded, it is much more likely in present circumstances at a time of conflicting ideologies than it has been in the past. We have to face the fact of a fifth column in this country, and we have to adjust many of our notions and procedures to that sinister and serious fact. I remember that many years ago Leon Blum was attacked because he had taken some action against French Communists. He was attacked on the ground that he, as an old internationalist, was acting against his creed, to which he replied (I do not vouch for the precise words): "My complaint of these French Communists is not that they are the servants of an internationalist creed; it is that they are the agents of a foreign and a hostile nationalism." That is the sinister and serious fact to which we have to adjust the whole of our procedure and policy in these clays. However, I do not now propose to go further with this question of suspected treachery.

It is, of course, true that we may rely upon any Department, and the security officers and personnel officers concerned in every Department, to refuse to conceal or withhold grounds for considering that a man was guilty of treachery. But the same cannot be said with the same confidence, for reasons we all appreciate, about those who, though innocent of crime, have shown themselves to be unsuitable by misconduct or by serious faults of character and temperament for continuance in their present offices of trust. Here I come, as an old civil servant, to the question of security of tenure. We all realise the reasons for, and the advantages of, security of tenure in the Civil Service, but I think it is essential that we should understand clearly what we mean by this. Security of tenure should mean security against the risks to employment that might result from political changes, personal prejudice or favouritism, or the fluctuations of demand to which others in other occupations are subject. It should mean that and only that; it should not mean in any degree security against the consequences of gross misconduct and gross incompetence and unsuitability. There must be a system which really works in the appropriate cases—not frequent, but important—to transfer, demote or dismiss, according to the seriousness of the offence or defect of character and according to the character of the work involved. What I have been saying does not refer specially to the Foreign Office; it applies equally to the whole of the Civil Service and, indeed, the public service. I know how high are the traditions in the Civil Service. I am confident that it is only in a very small proportion of cases that disciplinary action would be necessary, but I suggest that it is vital that where it is required it should be taken, and that security of tenure should not mean, or be reasonably suspected of meaning, security against the consequences of incompetence and misconduct.

In conclusion, I should like to make a comment on the question of ministerial responsibility which was referred to by the Foreign Secretary. Of course, ministerial responsibility must be maintained. Of course, the Minister must stand between his officials and external criticism. But I suggest that there are two indispensable corollaries and conditions of this. The first is that the officials should present the issues fairly and fully, and with all the requisite information, to the Minister for his decision, so that the decision can be really his and the responsibility really his, not only in constitutional doctrine, but in reality. The second is that when officials fail in that respect the Minister should take appropriate steps in his own Department.

These are the reflections I wish to put before your Lordships, and before those who will be considering this problem elsewhere. Such questions that I and my colleagues have asked as cannot be answered in public to-day, if there are any, will, I trust, be considered by those who are about to consider, less publicly, the questions which now concern us.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, may I detain your Lordships for just one moment? I know that there is a Royal Commission at half-past five, and apart from any other reason that is sufficient to cut my remarks short. I hope that when the noble Marquess replies to this Motion he will find it possible to cover two points. The first is a question: Why were both men not dismissed the service as completely unreliable and unfitted to represent their country at home and abroad? The second is an inquiry: Whether we could be informed if the results of this—I do not know what to call it—inquiry, or this Privy Counsellors' conference, will be published, and, if so, whether there will be any opportunity for public discussion in Parliament.


My Lords, may I ask one question? It has been said that it was impossible to prevent these men from leaving the country. In the three armed Forces it is the rule—and I have verified it—that no officer or man may go on foreign service leave without the permission of his General Officer Commanding or his Commander-in-Chief of his group or area. Is there any system in the Foreign Office whereby Foreign Office officials must get permission to have foreign service leave?


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned during pleasure, and we will resume immediately after the Royal Commission.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.