HL Deb 04 May 1961 vol 230 cc1383-5

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that it would be for the convenience of the House if I repeated here a statement which was made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place a few moments ago. The statement is as follows:

"With permission, I think it right to make a statement about the grave case of George Blake.

"As the House knows, Blake pleaded guilty yesterday to five counts charging him with offences against Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. I am informed that he has ten days within which to apply for leave to appeal against sentence; and, if he does apply, some time must elapse before the matter is discussed.

"I naturally wish to give the House as much information as I can consistently with the national interest and without prejudicing any appeal against the sentence.

"Blake, who is a British subject by birth, served with credit through the war in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In 1948, he was temporarily employed as Vice-Consul, Seoul, where he was interned by the Chinese and held for nearly three years in captivity. Although he no doubt underwent a certain amount of ill-treatment in common with others who were interned, he was subject to none of the brain-washing which military prisoners suffered. After his release, and after having been subjected to a very thorough security vetting, Blake was employed for a period with British Military Government in Berlin and subsequently attached for a time to the Foreign Office in London. In September, 1960, he was sent to learn Arabic in the Lebanon. Blake was never an established member of the Foreign Service.

"There is no reason to doubt that until 1951 he gave loyal service to this country. It was during his internment in Korea that he decided, as he said 'to join the Communist side'. It would appear that he voluntarily became a convert to what most of this House would regard as an evil faith. However regrettable we may regard such a conversion, it does not of course constitute criminal conduct. But to this he added treachery to the State. He agreed, in his own words, 'to make available to the Soviet Intelligence such information as came his way in the course of his duties'. It was for doing this that he was tried and sentenced.

"I would again emphasise that his action was not the result of brainwashing or intimidation while a prisoner. Nor did he fall to any of the other kinds of pressure which are sometimes employed in these circumstances. He received no money for his services. He was never at any time a member of the Communist Party or any of its affiliated organisations. What he did was done, in the words of the Lord Chief Justice, as the result of ' conversion to a genuine belief in the Communist system'.

"In these circumstances suspicion would not easily be aroused in relation to a man who had served his country well for some eight years, who gave every appearance of leading a normal and respectable life, but who had decided to betray his country for ideological reasons. Indeed, having agreed to work for the Russians he was careful not to arouse suspicion and to conceal his conversion to Communism.

Eventually, however, his activities were uncovered, and the result was his trial at the Old Bailey. He had access to information of importance and he passed it on.

"As my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney General said in open court, he has done serious damage to the interests of this country. As to that it would not be right, nor would it be in the public interest, for me to say more than was said in open court yesterday. I can, however, assure honourable Members that Blake's disclosures will not have done irreparable damage. In particular, he did not have access to secret information on defence, nuclear or atomic matters.

"Such cases as this are, I hope, extremely rare; but by reason of their very nature they are very difficult to detect or prevent by any security procedures. No such procedures can guarantee to catch a man who changes his allegiance and skilfully conceals his conversion. I do not therefore think that any inquiry such as that now being conducted in relation to another case—with which Blake's case has no connection and affords no parallel—would serve any useful purpose. But I can assure the House that I am reviewing all the circumstances with very great care to see whether there are any possible further measures which could be taken to protect this country from treachery of this kind."

My right honourable friend concluded:

"While I recognise to the full the responsibility that rests on Her Majesty's Government, I should be very willing to discuss with the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and any Privy Counsellor that he might wish to have associated with him the circumstances of this case and the matters that arise from it."

My Lords, that is the statement which my right honourable friend made.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Leader of the House for having communicated to us here the Prime Minister's statement. I do not propose to make any detailed comment at this present time upon this very grave matter. I think that, from the point of view of those on this side of the House, we should await the discussion which obviously is going to take place between the Leaders in another place and see what steps might then be concerted in order to do what we can to improve the security conditions for the safety of our country. There can be no doubt about the grave disquiet in the country as a whole at this additional case, probably of even greater dimensions than the other at this time, and I am quite sure that the offer of the Prime Minister to confer with the Leaders of the Opposition and to consider going into the matter again with other Privy Counsellors is probably the best immediate step that can be taken.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for saving that, and for the way in which he said it.