HL Deb 29 May 1957 vol 204 cc59-61

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make a personal statement. As some of your Lordships will remember, I spoke last week in the debate on the universities, and in my speech I drew attention to what I regarded as objectionable aspects of the methods used by the security services in collecting information as to happenings in the universities. I have been widely reported in the Press as having stated that a teacher had been asked to find out what documents a colleague had in his room. I wish to correct this I did not intend to convey that this had actually happened—that a teacher had in fact been asked to do that. I have no evidence that that is so. I was simply arguing that that was the sort of thing that would be likely to happen if this type of method were used. I do not want to make any accusation of misreporting. I have no doubt that I was not speaking as accurately as I should have liked to do. But as this is a matter of importance, I should like to make it quite clear that I did not intend to make any imputation of this kind.


My Lords, I am sure the House accepts what the noble Lord has said. I myself should like to say this—I think I owe it to the House to say it. In the debate to which the noble Lord referred, I was, of course, answering outside my own Department, and I have made it plain to the noble Lord that it would have been of some assistance to me, and I think it would have been in accordance with the custom of the House, had I been given some notice of these general allegations which were being made. I was in fact given none, with the result that I did not have an opportunity to reply to them. I have invited the noble Lord to give some evidence of the allegations that were made on that occasion, and so far he has given only one instance.


My Lords, if I may just add a word, I received the information on which the gravamen of my charge was based only a few hours before the debate took place, and I had not really the opportunity of bringing it to the knowledge of the noble Viscount, although it had not, in fact, struck me that it was necessary that I should do so. There would not have been time in which to investigate the point, because, as I say, it was only a few hours beforehand that I received it. But, in the meantime I have sent him the name of my informant on the more serious of the charges I made. This gentleman is a lecturer in the University of London, and he has offered to come and explain to the Minister everything that happened. I do not think that more than that can be expected.


My Lords, I am perfectly sure that the noble Lord did not mean any harm at all, but the fact remains that very serious allegations were made about a Government Department, and the only Government Minister who was responsible for answering the debate had not at his disposal the means to answer them. That seems to me to be very unfair on the Department and on the officials concerned. The last thing I would do is to say to the noble Lord that he should in any way restrict himself in regard to the absolute freedom which all Members of either House of Parliament enjoy. I feel myself that, in justice to the Department concerned, when it is known that a Minister is answering outside his own Department, as I was, some opportunity should be given in order to find out whether there is any truth in the allegations or not. I must say that I have in front of me the Hansard containing what the noble Lord said, and I venture to say that nobody would have dreamed, reading that Hansard, that he was going on one specific incident related by one specific informant alone.


My Lords, this is a very wide subject. If it will help the Minister I will put down a Motion so that we can go into the question, which is obviously a matter of some importance. He will then have an opportunity of making the Government's case.