HL Deb 13 June 1961 vol 232 cc125-9

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, for the convenience of your Lordships I will, with your permission, repeat a statement which the Prime Minister has made in another place on the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Breaches of Security at the Underwater Detection Establishment at Portland. It is as follows:

"The Government are greatly indebted to Sir Charles Romer and his colleagues for the speed and thoroughness with which they have investigated the circumstances of this case. Their Report is based on an exhaustive examination of a very considerable body of evidence; and its conclusions are unanimous. In view of the special secrecy of some of the matters which the Committee had to investigate, I am satisfied that it would not be in the public interest to publish the full text of their Report. I am, however, arranging for a summary of their findings, which the Government accept, to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

"Those findings fall broadly into three groups. First, the Committee criticise, in general terms, certain defects in the Admiralty organisation for implementing security policy and procedures. Second, they criticise certain individuals at Portland for specific shortcomings in maintaining adequate security. Think they find that no blame attaches to the immigration authorities and that the counter-espionage operations of the Security Service in this case were carried out with efficiency.

"The first group of these findings is of special relevance to the current examination by the Radcliffe Committee of security procedures in the public service as a whole, and the Romer Report has therefore been referred to that Committee, who will, I am sure, take full account of it in their inquiry. Without prejudice to any recommendations which may be made by the Radcliffe Committee, the Board of Admiralty are taking steps first to review their internal organisation for implementing security policy in the light of the criticisms of the Romer Committee, and secondly to impress upon all their staffs the need for strict compliance with security instructions.

"The Admiralty are also considering what action should be taken as regards the individuals specifically blamed by the Romer Report."

Following is the summary of the main findings of the Romer Committee referred to: No criticism can be made of Houghton's appointment in 1951 as Clerk to the Naval Attaché in Warsaw. Nor can any criticism be made of want of action by the Naval Attaché or the Admiralty in the events leading up to his recall to London, before the expiration of his appointment, on account of his drinking habits. 2. Given the security criteria of the time no legitimate criticism can be made of Houghton's subsequent appointment in 1952 to a post in the Underwater Detection Establishment at Portland which did not in itself involve access to secret material. It is regrettable however that the authorities at Portland were not informed about the reason for Houghton's recall from Warsaw. 3. No criticism can be made of Miss Gee's appointment to and subsequent retention at the Underwater Detection Establishment. At no time before the opening of the Security Service investigation in the middle of 1960 was there any ground for regarding Miss Gee with suspicion. 4. In 1954 an allegation was made to a junior official who was Houghton's immediate superior in the small section of the Underwater Detection Establishment in which Houghton worked that the latter was taking secret papers out of the Establishment. This official did not report the matter or take any other steps in, regard to it apart from advising his informant to see the Security Officer or the police, and he is very much to blame for his inaction. 5. In 1956 Houghton was twice brought to the notice of the authorities in the Underwater Detection Establishment as a probable security risk. Insufficient investigations were made and a report which was both incomplete and misleading was submitted to the Admiralty. The Security Officer at the Establishment is gravely to blame for the casual way in which he dealt with this matter. Even so the Captain of the Establishment should personally have ensured that proper enquiries were conducted and that the matter was fully reported to the Admiralty. 6. The main responsibility for the failure to make a proper investigation of Houghton in 1956 rests therefore with the authorities in the Underwater Detection Establishment at that time. The evidence discloses that there was a general want of "security mindedness" in the Establishment; and responsibility for this must rest with the Captain of the Establishment. But the Admiralty, and the Security Service, although they received only an incomplete and misleading report from Portland, cannot escape criticism for failing to press the matter to a positive conclusion. 7. With one minor exception the Committee found no inconsistency between Government security policy and the security rules issued by the Admiralty. 8. The Committee consider however that, apart altogether from the incidents in 1956, the Admiralty are to blame for the manner in which they discharged their responsibilities for security, particularly in regard to supervising security arrangements at Portland. In particular, the method of keeping the personal records of Admiralty civilian staff gave no certain means of ensuring that all the available information about the conduct and capabilities of individuals was to hand when they were considered for particular posts or when security doubts about them arose. 9. Lonsdale and the Krogers were in possession of genuine Commonwealth passports when they entered this country and no blames attaches to the immigration authorities, who had no grounds for supposing that these passports were fraudulently obtained and could not at that time have been warned by either the United States or the Canadian security authorities that either Lonsdale or the Krogers were spies. 10. There was subsequently no failure of liaison between the Security Service and the security authorities in the United States or any other country. Indeed, the circumstances in which Lonsdale and the Krogers were eventually detected and brought to justice are in themselves a convincing example of close and effective international security liaison. 11. The Committee do not believe that the Security Service or any agency acting on their behalf received or overlooked any possible "lead" which might have resulted in earlier identification of Lonsdale and the Krogers as spies while they were in this country: indeed, they consider that professional skill of a high order was shown in establishing the necessary evidence against them once such a "lead" had been received.


My Lords, we are much obliged to the noble Lord for the statement he has just made, repeating the observations of the Prime Minister in another place. The Government were good enough to send to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in advance a copy of the statement. I should like to make a suggestion about such civilities and courtesies; that is to say, that the civility and the courtesy would be more effective if the statements were decently typed. Page 2 of this copy is dreadful—in fact, I am a little doubtful whether any foreign spy could understand it; but maybe that is too optimistic. The noble Lord might look into that point.

Personally, I think the Government are right in coming to the conclusion that they cannot publish the whole of the Report if, in their judgment, it would give things away to a possible enemy. Therefore I do not complain about that, though I am sure the Government will publish all they can. They are to publish a summary of the findings of the Romer Committee. Could the noble Lord say whether they are so long that they could not have been summarised or recapitulated in the statement he has made; or does he think it would be difficult otherwise?—because it would have been more convenient if we had had some indication of what those findings were.

The statement says that the Committee criticise…certain individuals at Portland for specific shortcoming in maintaining adequate security and I have no doubt that they are justified in so doing. Could the First Lord tell us, in these circumstances, whether the Government propose to transfer to less dangerous employment the individuals who have failed in their provision of security, or even to dismiss them from the Service, if they have proved to be incompetent? This was a very serious affair, with a number of most unsatisfactory circumstances. I think it is right that the Report should be referred to the other Committee covering the whole field of security, so that they can consider it. We are much obliged to the First Lord for the statement, and I hope that he will be able to make some observations on the points that I have raised.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. I must apologise for the typing.


It is quite common.


I will see that on the next occasion the noble Lord gets a copy nearer the top. The summary of the findings is rather long and occupies two foolscap pages; and I understand it was thought right that it should be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I have, however, arranged for the convenience of your Lordships, that copies of the summary should be available in the Library after the statement is made if your Lordships would wish to read it before the OFFICIAL REPORT comes out to-morrow morning. As regards the last question the noble Lord asked, I would rather not say too much about the individuals concerned. It was included in the Prime Minister's statement that the Admiralty are considering what action should be taken against these individuals. But in point of fact, two of the individuals concerned are no longer at Portland, one having retired and one having gone somewhere else and therefore only one individual would be affected by this question of transfer.