HL Deb 01 July 1963 vol 251 cc540-3

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, it might be convenient if I were to repeat a statement on the case of Mr. Harold Philby which was made a few minutes ago in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal.

My right honourable friend said on March 20 that shortly after the disappearance of Mr. H. A. R. Philby from the Lebanon Mrs. Philby received messages purporting to come from him from Cairo. At the request of his wife and of a British newspaper which he was representing, Her Majesty's Government made inquiries concerning his whereabouts from the Governments in both Cairo and Beirut, without success. I can now tell your Lordships that more recently Mrs. Philby has received messages purporting to come from Mr. Philby from behind the Iron Curtain. On the other hand, the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya reported on June 3 that Mr. Philby was with the Imam of the Yemen. There is no confirmation of this story.

Although there is as yet no certainty concerning Mr. Philby's whereabouts, there has been a development which may throw light on the question. On November 7, 1955, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, at that time Foreign Secretary, said in another place that it had become known that Mr. Philby had had Communist associations and that he was asked to resign from the Foreign Service in July, 1951, which he did. My right honourable friend also said that his case had been the subject of close investigation and that no evidence had been found up to that time to show that he was responsible for warning Burgess and Maclean or that he had betrayed the interests of this country.

My right honourable friend added that inquiries were continuing. In fact the Security Services have never closed their file on this case and now have further information. They are now aware, partly as a result of an admission by Mr. Philby himself, that he worked for the Russians before 1946, and that in 1951 he in fact warned Maclean, through Burgess, that the Security Services were about to take action against him. This information coupled with the latest messages received by Mrs. Philby suggests that when he left Beirut he may have gone to one of the countries of the Soviet bloc.

Since Mr. Philby resigned from the Foreign Service in 1951 he has not had access of any kind to any official information. For the last seven years he has been living outside British legal jurisdiction.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, we are much obliged to the noble Earl the Minister of State for repeating in this House the statement which was made by the Lord Privy Seal in another place. I think that on both sides of the House we have received with a fair degree of sadness the news that another incident should have arisen, though in this case, fortunately, it is not a new incident of current espionage. How much harm this man may have done when he was in the Foreign Service we do not yet know.

I think it is a good thing that at last it has been found with reasonable certainty who was the third man, the one who tipped off Burgess and Maclean. At any rate, that mystery is cleared up. It is comforting to know that he has been discovered. He is now living abroad and outside British jurisdiction. But if he should come within British jurisdiction, I presume that he would be liable to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. I hope that what was done in the other case will not be repeated in this one. Why it was done I do not know. I do not see why these people, who are guilty of treachery to the State, should be able freely to draw money from this country in order to keep themselves going when they go abroad and take refuge in the hands of another Power. I just do not understand it.

There is one other thing I should like to say arising out of this incident and one other recent bit of controversy that has arisen about another person—namely, that newspapers, especially those which are largely edited by longhaired journalists, might exercise reasonable care as to whom they employ. I should have thought it was not greatly desirable that a person who was caused to resign from the Foreign Service because he was unreliable, and has since found himself behind the Iron Curtain because he wanted to go there, should, in connection with employment, be given by newspapers—I will not say preference, although sometimes I think that is what it is. But that is for the newspapers to decide. Thank goodness, we have a free Press, and we have an interesting Press. I should not like to interfere with them at all. I only, with the greatest respect, throw out the hint that a little discrimination in regard to whom they employ, especially on sensitive jobs, would be to the best.

We are obliged to the noble Earl for the statement that he has made. It has its lessons, and I hope that everybody concerned will learn the lessons that are to be learnt from it. It would appear that he resigned from the Foreign Service—that is a comfort to me—at a time when I was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I did not get any comfort out of Burgess and Maclean. If I had known previously about those two lads I should have sent them out— "fired" them. But this at least is a little comfort, and we are obliged for the statement.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House will agree that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has really covered the ground in answer to the statement, for which we are grateful to the noble Earl. I must dissociate myself from the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in his thinking that no journalist is to be trusted if his employing editor is long-haired. There is something to be said for his point of view. In this particular regard, the matter is twelve years old. It might have happened in the lifetime of almost any Government, except a Liberal Government, which we have not had for the last fifty years. Therefore, I do not think we can attach any blame to any Party. It is sad that this has come about now, but I will say to the noble Earl, if I may, that the public do appreciate being told as much of these affairs as is consonant with security. We are grateful to him for letting us know how this matter is proceeding.


My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord opposite for his remarks, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and I should like to assure him that I entirely exculpate the Liberal party from any part in this.