§ 2.48 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD DILHORNE) rose to move to resolve, That this House takes note of the Report of the Tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to inquire into the Vassal Case and Related Matters (Cmnd. 2009), and of the operation of the Act. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. This Motion is in the same terms as that moved by the Prime Minister in the other House yesterday, and it has been drafted in these terms so that there can be full discussion and consideration not only of the Report itself but also of the operation of the 1921 Act. It is, I think, true to say that in recent years there has not been any major investigation to which the 1921 Act has been applied which has not been followed by criticism, not of the members of the Tribunal, but of some aspects of the procedure followed and of its consequences. I propose to say something about that later.706
§ First I should like to say something about the Report itself, and to begin by reminding your Lordships of the Tribunal's terms of reference. They were to inquire into the circumstances in which offences under the Official Secrets Acts were committed by Vassall, and, in particular, into the allegations made that the presence of another spy inside the Admiralty was known to the First Lord and his service chiefs after the Portland case. They were to inquire into any other allegations which had been, or might be, brought to their attention reflecting similarly on the honour and integrity of persons who, as Ministers, naval officers or civil servants, were concerned in the case; also to inquire into any breaches of security arrangements which took place and any neglect of duty by persons directly responsible for Vassall's employment and conduct and for his being treated as suitable for employment on secret work. Into all these matters, I have no doubt your Lordships will agree, the Report shows that the Tribunal made as thorough and complete an investigation as it was possible for them to do.
§ As the Report shows, they heard no fewer than 142 witnesses; they read and studied a large mass of reports, documentary material and statements, and did a very great deal of work in the four and a half months they took to complete their task. I should like to express the thanks of the Government—and I am sure your Lordships would wish to join with me in doing so—to the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and his colleagues, Mr. Justice Barry and Sir Edward Milner Holland, for giving up so much of their time to this task and for their conscientious discharge of a very heavy public duty. They have produced a comprehensive and valuable Report, a model of what such a Report should be.
§ Whenever a spy is caught and prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act it is natural that there should be public anxiety as to our security arrangements, anxiety lest any of the safeguards that should have operated have not operated on account of human failings, anxiety as to the efficiency of our security system, and anxiety about what may have been obtained by the spy. Indeed, it it true to say that whenever a spy who is in the Government service, in the Armed 707 Forces, or employed in industry engaged on secret defence work, is caught, there is a feeling that something has gone wrong. When I was Attorney General it fell to my lot to prosecute, under the Official Secrets Act in six spy cases, individuals from each of these categories. I would submit that it is not right to assume that if a spy is caught it follows that something has gone wrong.
§ I would not for one moment suggest that there may not be a lesson to be learnt from every case of this kind, nor would I suggest that it may not be advisable to see whether there are any defects in our security system or whether it has been operated as it should have been, but it should certainly not be assumed that the catching of a spy means that something has gone wrong. However pervasive and efficient our security system is, it must, I think, be recognised that, just as a thoroughly good system of accountancy cannot prevent a man from acting fraudulently, so an efficient security system cannot prevent a man or woman from becoming disloyal. We must have a good security system and that, in my belief, and in the light of my experience in the six cases, we have; but I think we must recognise that, however good the system, it cannot provide a 100 per cent. immunity against disloyalty. Just as a good system of accountancy can and should lead to the detection of the fraudulent, so a good counter-espionage system should lead to the detection of those who, it may be after long service to their country, have for one reason or another engaged in treasonable activities.
Every spy who is caught is a credit to our counter-espionage service, and I, for my part, should like to pay my tribute, for what it is worth, to their ability and competence. Surely the most difficult spy to catch is the man or woman employed in the service of the State who suddenly becomes disloyal, whether for ideological reasons, or because they have been trapped, or just for money. In recent years there have been instances of disloyalty, indeed of treason, for these reasons. The detection and arrest of Houghton and Miss Gee and the way in which the others in the Portland case were brought to justice reflect the highest credit on those engaged in that opera-
tion, on their efficiency and skill. Any ordinary search of the Krogers' home would not have revealed what was there concealed. In the Vassall case, too, I think great credit should be given to those engaged on his apprehension. As the Report states, it was in March, 1962, that information reached the security services. By June he was under suspicion as the possible offender and, as the Report states, by August certainty began to turn to him. The Report of the Tribunal states in paragraph 56:
…the story seems to us to be one of o laborious and very capable piece of counter espionage.
§ I think we can take comfort from the fact that these cases, and this case, are strong evidence of the fact that we have an efficient and competent counterespionage service, and the more efficient and competent it is, the greater the prospect of bringing to justice those in our country who engage in such treasonable activities. But the fact remains—and it must be faced—that in this case Vassall was able to betray his country from about September, 1955, until 1962, except for the period from January, 1961, to early 1962 when he was told by his Russian masters to stop all espionage work—and that was as a result of the Portland case.
One thing the Tribunal had to consider was whether his activities and his character deficiencies should have come to light before. They say in paragraph 201:
He was trusted, and he proved to be a traitor, and there is little a Department can do through protective measures to prevent such a person from abstracting information for transmission to the agents of other countries, provided he acts with discretion and incurs no avoidable risks.
§ That is no doubt true; but this case shows, as indeed the cases of Houghton and Miss Gee showed, that such persons can be brought to justice and receive the punishment they deserve. The Report of the Tribunal shows that they most thoroughly examined all the steps that were taken in relation to Vassal]. They criticised the system of selection which led to his going to Moscow, and in this connection they made some criticism of a man who is now dead. No one likes criticising a person who cannot give his side of the story, and indeed it would be a great injustice were it to be thought 709 that this gentleman, to whose efficiency and conscientiousness the Tribunal paid a tribute, was mainly responsible for what subsequently occurred. The Tribunal said that it would be unjust to conclude that he had been negligent in his public duty.
§ It may be that a better system of selection might have lead to Vassall's not going to Moscow. One does not know, but, of course, one hopes that it would. But the fact remains that, in a free society, there is a limit to the degree of supervision and investigation of people's private lives that is tolerable or acceptable. It must be accepted that, so long as we as a people are not prepared to accept the degree of interference in, and surveillance of, our private lives incompatible with a free society, so long will there be a risk of someone's slipping through the net.
The Report also criticised the failure to take action on the minute of the 13th January, 1956, from the military attaché. They said that this minute should have involved direct questioning of Vassal. That did not take place. If it had, there is a possibility, I suppose, that Vassall's activities might then have been discovered. One does not know. The Tribunal went on to say, and I quote from the Report:
that is, the responsibility for not taking this action—
must be shared between the senior members of the Embassy at that time; the evidence is not precise enough to enable responsibility to be allocated more closely.
§ My Lords, I have mentioned these criticisms for they would seem to be the main criticisms made by the Tribunal in relation to Vassall. And it would not be right to attach more weight to the criticism of Mr. Pennells than to this later criticism. I neither seek to minimise nor to exaggerate the weight to be attached to the criticisms made by the Tribunal. As I have said, a lesson can be learnt front each of these cases and the lesson to be learnt from this case is, I submit, the need for unremitting and constant vigilance.
I now want to turn to the allegations made against my noble friend Lord Carrington and my honourable friend Mr. Galbraith. I do not propose to make any observations on the conduct of the Press in relation to this matter. The Tribunal had to consider what had been
published in the Press, in the course of their inquiries as to the matters referred to them. They thought it desirable to make plain that at no time had they regarded it as part of their function to express judgments—and I quote their words—
as to whether this or that newspaper ought or ought not to have published any particular statement on the basis of tithe information before it or the deductions it felt qualified to make.
§ In moving this Motion I do not propose to express any judgment or opinion upon the Press, for that is not the subject of debate today. We shall, I understand, be devoting a day to that fairly soon. In the course of investigating the allegations preferred in relation to my noble friend, the Tribunal had, of course, to examine what was said and what foundation there was for it. I am sure your Lordships will, in whatever part of the House your Lordships may sit, welcome the conclusion of the Tribunal in relation to the noble Lord and the Service chiefs—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
—that—and again I quote the words from the Report—there is nothing to give ground for the allegation that Lord Carrington and other Admiralty officials had known since 22nd March, 1961, that a spy was at work inside the Admiralty".The Tribunal rightly regarded,any allegation which attributed to an individual in an official position, Minister, naval officer, or civil servant a gross neglect of duty in a matter affecting the security of his countryas reflecting on his honour or integrity. I am sure that none of your Lordships who knows my noble friend would ever have dreamt that he would be guilty of such neglect of his duty, and I am sure your Lordships are glad—as indeed I am glad—that this thorough and searching investigation has made it clear, that there was on no one's pant a gross neglect of duty which would reflect on his honour or integrity.
Before I pass from this I should like to remind your Lordships of the final sentence of the body of the Tribunal's Report. It reads as follows:There are no reasonable security arrangements which by themselves could have resulted in Vassall being detected as a spy, nor so far 711 as we can establish, did any failure in the security arrangements that were in force within the Admiralty result in Vassall's espionage activities being more extensive or more fruitful than they otherwise would have been.That, my Lords, was the verdict of the Tribunal, and it is one that should not be questioned.
My honourable friend Mr. Galbraith was the subject of many innuendoes and allegations of a most unpleasant kind. What he must have suffered in consequence until this Report was published one can only imagine. The Tribunal said—and again I quote their words:there is nothing to be said against Mr. Galbraith on this head"—they were dealing with his personal relationship with Vassall—except that he had the misfortune to be brought into official contact with a man who, unknown to him, was acting as an agent for the Russian Secret Service, and that in the course of those contacts he showed a civil kindness which did not altogether terminate with the end of the official contacts".My Lords, surely it would be a sad day if the friendships a Minister makes while he holds office had to be ended when he relinquished his office.
I should now like to turn to the second part of the Motion—the operation of the Act of 1921. Your Lordships will remember that before this Act was passed, when any matter of public importance had to be investigated it was either gone into by a Select Committee or by a Special Commission appointed for the purpose. Now I do not intend to put forward the reasons for saying that the Select Committee is not a very satisfactory tribunal for investigating matters of this sort. But it is not without interest to note what is the position of a witness called before a Select Committee. That is stated on page 674 of Erskine May, and I will read the passage to your Lordships. It is there stated:A witness is, however, bound to answer all questions which the committee see fit to put to him…and cannot excuse himself, for example, on the ground that he may thereby subject himself to a civil action, or because he has taken an oath not to disclose the matter about which he is required to testify, or because the matter was a privileged communication to him, as where a solicitor is called upon to disclose the secrets of his client, or on the ground that he is advised by counsel that he cannot do so without incurring the risk of incriminating himself or exposing himself to a civil suit, or that it would prejudice him as defendant in litigation which is 712 pending, some of which would be sufficient grounds of excuse in a court of law.Your Lordships will note from that passage that Parliament goes further than the courts. A solicitor before a Select Committee can be required to disclose the secrets of his clients: under the ordinary law in the courts communications to a solicitor by his clients are in general privileged.
It is not infrequently said that one of the objections to the constitution of a Tribunal, and the application to it of this Act of 1921, is that the Tribunal is inquisitorial, and I recognise that inquisitorial proceedings are somewhat foreign to us. But where the task of a body is to ascertain what has happened, there is not, so far as I can see, any escape from an inquisitorial procedure. We have it in wreck inquiries, inquiries into railway accidents, into aircraft crashes, in courts of inquiry under the Army Act, and it may be that there are some others. Those primarily fact-finding inquiries may indeed disclose culpable negligence on the part of individuals, or it may be the commission of criminal offences. The bodies holding such inquiries usually have power to compel the attendance of witnesses and power to compel them to answer questions. So, my Lords, the powers conferred under the 1921 Act on the Tribunal are not unusual, nor are they exceptional. That Act provides that any witness before a Tribunal shall be entitled to the same privileges and immunities as if he were a witness before the High Court.
Much discussion has taken place on the question whether journalists should be required to disclose their sources. It is to be noted that the journalists who gave evidence before this Tribunal were not required to disclose their sources except when, in the opinion of the Tribunal, such disclosure was necessary in order that the Tribunal might complete its task. In the Bank Rate Inquiry, journalists were required to disclose their sources on a number of occasions. They were directed to do so, and they did. If they had not done so, I do not see how the Tribunal could possibly have completed its task of ascertaining whether or not there had been a leak about the Bank rate.
I do, I hope, fully appreciate the feelings of a respectable journalist when 713 asked to disclose a confidential source. They must be analogous to those of a doctor or a priest who is required to testify as to a confidential communication. But the question remains: should a journalist be allowed to refuse to answer a question as to the source of his information when what he has published, and its sources, are relevant to the subject matter of the inquiry which is taking place before the Tribunal appointed, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, by Parliament? As I have indicated, Erskine May shows that before a Select Committee he might be required to answer and, if he did not do so, be treated as in contempt. This question does not fall for consideration to-day—the law as it now stands has been clearly established—and I want to proceed to more general questions.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Lord at this stage? Perhaps he will remember that these men did go to prison on a matter of conscience.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am fully aware of the fact that the men were sentenced to prison, after a full investigation by the courts, for refusing to answer questions which they were directed to answer.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, there have been criticisms in relation to many of these Tribunals. In the Budget Leak Inquiry in 1930 the Attorney General of the day felt it to be his duty only to examine the witnesses and to leave it to the Tribunal to cross-examine and test their evidence. That procedure was criticised by my noble and learned friend Lord Simonds in the debate that took place on the appointment of the Lynskey Tribunal. If I may remind your Lordships, he pointed out that the Tribunal was handicapped in doing that; that it was necessary sometimes to cross-examine severely to get the truth from a reluctant witness; and that that was inconsistent with the appearance of impartiality that is so essential to a judicial inquiry. The proceedings of that Tribunal were also criticised on the ground that those held blameworthy were given no notice of the case they had to meet.
Then there was the Lynskey Tribunal, at which my noble and learned friend Lord Shawcross appeared as Attorney 714 General. After that Inquiry also there was criticism. Then came the Bank Rate Inquiry. I regarded it as my duty at that Inquiry to do all that lay in my power, without fear or favour, to assist the Tribunal in getting at the truth; and, to make sure that those whose conduct might possibly be the subject of criticism knew what they had to meet, I felt it incumbent on me to state the matters which called for an explanation. There was criticism after that inquiry, and I think the main criticism was as to the long interval that elapsed between what might be called the presentation of the case and the reply. I was very concerned about that at the time, for I realised full well that, in the glare of the publicity attending those proceedings, the presentation of the case in an opening speech might have most damaging consequences to individuals. None the less, I felt it was essential that those who might conceivably be criticised by the Tribunal should have notice of the matters which called for an explanation, of the case they had to meet, for I felt that there was great force in the complaints made after the Budget Leak Inquiry that those criticised had had no notice of the kind of criticism that might be made.
My Lords, I think this is a real problem. It is not, I think, completely answered by saying that there should be a right of reply, because that may come after a considerable interval, and such a reply can be usefully made only after witnesses have been heard, and that may take a considerable time. One solution of this problem might be to adopt the procedure, adopted by Select Committees, of publishing and only allowing the publication of the evidence at the same time as the publication of the Report. That would avoid injury to individuals ultimately found to be blameless; but I do not know that it really is an acceptable solution, for there is great force in the argument that proceedings of such Tribunals should, so far as possible, be held in public.
In the Vassall case, owing to the fact that so much had to be heard in camera, this problem did not arise, but it is a problem to which, in my view, careful consideration requires to be given. In the Bank Rate Inquiry I was criticised for having examined witnesses and then for cross-examining them. What perhaps was not generally realised was that the 715 examination-in-chief consisted of the repetition in public of statements voluntarily made in writing to the Tribunal, and then already seen by the Tribunal. Then, too, there was criticism of the Attorney General appearing in the case. Views were expressed before the Lynskey Tribunal sat that the then Attorney General should not appear; and I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Shawcross considered that question very carefully. He came to the conclusion that it was his duty to appear. When my turn came, I also considered the matter very carefully, and I reached the same conclusion. Unless a Law Officer is personally involved, I must say I think it is one of the duties of his office to undertake this task, however reluctant he may personally be to do so.
It is sometimes suspected that the Attorney may, in the discharge of his duties, be affected by political considerations. There are a number of duties of a Law Officer the discharge of which must not be affected either by political considerations or by ties of friendship. It is a high tradition maintained, I think, by all who have held that office over many years, to discharge those duties without fear or favour. That I endeavoured to do, as I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, did, and as Mr. Attorney did in the present case. It would, I think, be a sad day if any weight were given to the idea that, in the discharge of these duties, the Attorney of the day might be affected by political considerations.
When inquiries such as that in the Bank Rate case, as to whether there has been any leak of information, and such as in this case, into, among other things, a number of allegations, are instituted there is no saying in advance along what roads the investigation will have to go. That is one of the difficulties. But I think it is the case that, as our experience of these Tribunals has grown, so has the procedure which has been followed been improved. I hope and trust that further improvements can be made, and that it may be possible to find some answer to the difficult problem to which I have referred—namely, the difficulty of giving to those who may, at the end of the day, be criticised adequate notice of what they have to deal with, and, at the same time, avoiding the injury to them following upon 716 the publication of charges which may in the end be completely rebutted.
It is not every Inquiry which, in order to discharge its task, needs have power to compel the attendance of witnesses and power to compel them to answer questions. I am sure your Lordships will welcome the Prime Minister's suggestion as to the appointment of a Security Commission and the appointment of a Committee of Privy Counsellors. This will, I am sure, be useful machinery and it may well avoid the necessity of appointing a Tribunal to which this Act applies. But where charges of the nature made in the Bank Rate case and in the Vassall case are preferred, I must say that I see no alternative to an investigation by a body fully armed with the necessary powers; and one must, as the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, said in the debate which followed the Waters Report:…accept the paradox that occasionally only the fullest and most formal investigation will demonstrate to the public that there was nothing at all to investigate.I am not going so far as to say that there was nothing to investigate in relation to the Vassall case. It was obviously right that there should be an inquiry into the security arrangements. Three senior civil servants were charged with that task. But in the light of the charges made affecting the honour of a number of individuals there was, in my view, no alternative to the appointment of this Tribunal. One can only hope that the occasion for the appointment of another Tribunal will not frequently arise. I beg to move.
Moved to resolve, That this House takes note of the Report of the Tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to inquire into the Vassall Case and Related Matters (Cmnd. 2009), and of the operation of the Act.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, this is a subject which, in the circumstances of to-day, I feel we ought not to seek to handle on violent Party political lines. It is a question which affects the security of the State; and that is, I hope, for everybody a matter above Party politics. I believe that in the circumstances we shall be best advised to argue it out on the basis of fact, on the 717 basis of the evidence which is recorded in this Report, and to do it as calmly and judiciously as we can, if we can—and this is not always easy.
This is a matter of very great importance, and it must be so regarded by the Government and by the nation. We are obliged to the noble and learned Lord for his speech of exposition. There are some things he said with which I do not altogether agree; as there are some things in the Report of the Tribunal, and in the proposals of the Prime Minister in another place yesterday, with which I do not altogether agree. In these circumstances, if my speech to-day is a little on the pedestrian side, is lacking in "fireworks" and is loaded with a fair amount of quotations from the Report, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me and that I shall not altogether lose your attention.
The noble and learned Lord made his opening speech—for which we are obliged to him—with restraint and with care; and in the course of his observations he said that the catching of a spy does not necessarily mean that something has gone seriously wrong. Thus far, I do not feel able to disagree with him. Yet in the circumstances of this case I do not think that that is an observation that carries very much weight. After all, this spy had been going on for seven years, and that is a long time for a spy to be spying without detection and, for the greater part of the period., without suspicion arising. Therefore the noble and learned Lord's statement that, because a spy has been caught it does not necessarily mean that something is gravely wrong, and that up to a point it is a matter of congratulation that the spy has been caught, is, I think, putting the matter too simply in the case of a man who has been a spy pretty consistently for seven whole years until he has been caught because that is very serious.
The Lord Chancellor also said—and the Prime Minister said yesterday in another place—that in a free society there are limits to which we can go in investigating and pursuing possibly, only possibly, suspected persons. I admit that. On the other hand we must not so overdo this "free society" argument that it acts against the effectiveness of the security services of our country. We cannot pursue the argument so far that it 718 almost gives a relatively free run to the spy to pursue his wicked operations. Therefore we must have a balance on these matters; and, indeed, we have had it in the past. This Government and the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951 had no hesitation in saying that persons employed in the Civil Service or public service who might be handling top-secret matters of information should if they were Communists or Fascists, be removed from their positions of handling that top-secret information and, if possible, be given other employment where the opportunities of espionage were not so great. We did that; and we were subjected to some criticism.
I think that some people may now be criticising the Government for not having had this spy "dropped on" more quickly—a criticism in which, with restraint, I join. But if these critics are the same people who say that the country has no right to raise a note of interrogation on the employment of Communists or Fascists in top-secret affairs, they really ought to keep their mouths shut and keep quiet about it. This spy happens to be one who did it for money, so far as one can tell. There was no ideology about it, unless it were sexual ideology, if it can be so called—
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I leave the noble Lord to decide. A man who spies because of his Communist beliefs, because he believes that he has a greater loyalty to a Communist country than he has to his own; or a Fascist who believes that he has a greater loyalty to a Fascist country than to his own, is a great danger. Experience has shown this in, for example, the May case and in another case, the name of which I have forgotten. They were cases in which the people concerned were putting the lives of millions of their fellow countrymen behind their loyalty to a foreign country who happened to be pursuing political policies, including tyranny, lack of liberty, in which they believed. So it would not be logical for those who get worried about Communists and Fascists being under suspicion to be over-indignant about a man—about whom I, too, am indignant—who has done this for money. I say I do not want reasonable British civil liberty to be lost; it is one of the most valuable things we 719 have and of which we can boast. But we must not run the doctrine on liberty so far as to deny ourselves the opportunity of catching a spy or the enemy who wants to do our people damage. We must balance these things as we go.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that he was going to make no comment on the Press. Possibly he may have at the back of his mind the thought that a little too much comment was made in the earlier discussions when the Tribunal was appointed. But it is impossible to leave the Press out of this discussion; and, indeed, to do him justice, the noble and learned Lord did discuss the Press in the course of his observations, as I hope to do later.
The noble and learned Lord referred to the Prime Minister's proposal to set up a Standing Commission on Security, which could be assisted by having their attention drawn to matters by a Committee of Privy Counsellors. With great respect, I do not find myself able to agree with this proposal. I think that responsibility for security must be fairly placed upon Her Majesty's Government and that the Government must be responsible for this to both Houses of Parliament. If we set up a Standing Commission on Security, we run into two dangers. One is that the Government of the day may hide behind the Standing Commission; the other is that the Commission itself might get stale as the years roll on and might not be so alive to the situation as it ought to be, even if its members are men of considerable ability, as I imagine they would be.
I have no prejudice about Privy Counsellors. I am one myself, and have served on the Committee of Privy Counsellors which dealt with some security matters a few years ago. But, after all, there is nothing marvellous about having Privy Counsellors, as such, dealing with security matters. Some rude people say that there is nothing marvellous about them in any way at all; but I do not go so far as that—after all, I am one myself. They are not necessarily born to be experts in security matters, and the reason the Committee of Privy Counsellors was set up earlier on was primarily because it was thought that, having taken their oaths of secrecy, they were reliable and would not give away 720 matters about which they had received evidence. But I do not think that the proposal of the Prime Minister is a wise one. I think that it is calculated to shield a Government that is not particularly competent in the security field, and calculated to weaken the Government's direct responsibility to Parliament for security matters.
The noble and learned Lord referred to criticisms of Tribunals of Inquiries investigation; and, if I may respectfully say so, I agree with what he has said. I believe that a Select Committee of Parliament is not the appropriate body. It is true that, according to Erskine May, it has powers approaching those of a Tribunal of Inquiry, but a Select Committee is a committee of politicans, in which it is inevitable, and as a whole proper, that the Government of the day should have a majority, with the Opposition having its proportionate share. I do not think that a Select Committee of Parliament is a reliable, impartial and objective tribunal to deal with matters of his sort, even though I have a high respect for Select Committees of Parliament.
The other argument is that such a matter should go to the High Court. I have a great respect for the High Court, but all my life I have been very careful to try to keep out of libel or slander actions, because it is very speculative whether you get the result you want if you go in for such an action. I say that with respect to the great courts in the land. The Courts have their rule of evidence, and, on the whole, the evidence against a person who is charged has to be laid before a case is opened—whereas the purpose of a Tribunal of Inquiry is to find the evidence, to collect the information and facts, and then pronounce judgment. By its very nature the whole of the evidence cannot be easily laid before it before proceedings begin. Therefore, although I admit that the Tribunal of Inquiry action is a bit on the rough side, I think that it has to be for this purpose. And I must say that I do not think that this Tribunal has erred on the side of severity.
I agree with the noble and learned Lord that successive Attorney Generals have tried to discharge their functions fairly and without political obligation to the Government of the day. That is my 721 experience, and I can certainly speak for my noble friend Lord Shawcross, all the more impartially because he is not now, unfortunately, a member of the Labour Party. I know that he was worried about whether he should appear as Attorney arid assist the Lynskey Tribunal proceedings. It worried him a great deal. In the end, he decided to appear, and certainly in that case nobody can say that he spared members of the Government of the day who had to appear before the Tribunal. He was a pretty severe cross-examiner of everybody, irrespective of person or political position. Some people thought that he was a bit too rough; but I do not complain. Nobody can say that he tried to protect members of the Government of the day. He did not.
In this case, according to the Report, there were strong warnings, fairly early on, to our Embassies in Moscow and Warsaw, which were the only Communist capitals in which we had Service attachés. These were also considered by an interdepartmental meeting in relation to the Admiralty and, I think, other Service Departments as well; and Mr. Williams, of the Foreign Office, urged special insistence not merely on briefing but also in the selection of people who were to verve in the Service attaché departments of our Embassies, whether military people or civilians. The warning was there, and to that extent the Foreign Office did useful work.
Here I must refer to Mr. Pennells. May I say that I gather that he was a good civil servant and a capable and upright administrator? Unfortunately, he has died, and while I understand the feelings of his daughter, and deeply sympathise with her in the death of her father and in this complication which has arisen since, nevertheless we cannot arrive at the position that, because a man has died, he must not be subject to criticisims of certain parts of his work. It is unfortunate that he has died, and we all regret it. But this warning of the Foreign Office that came along emphatically, and at some length, stated this. He minuted, or noted,I will see that clerks et cetera for Moscow and Warsaw are duly briefed.Then they were filed away. And it was not enough to see that the people going to Warsaw and Moscow were duly briefed. It was additionally important, and indeed was asked for in the 722 Foreign Office advice, that very great care should be taken in selecting people to serve in these sensitive posts. To that extent I think Mr. Pennells is justly open to some criticism, even though one accepts his good work in many respects. At that inter-departmental meeting, not only Mr. Pennells was present, but also Captain Ingram, both from the Admiralty. This was followed by a full memorandum, quite rightly stressing all these considerations. It must be remembered that Mr. Pennells was the civil assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence; and, as I have said, that was what he minuted. But the record does not show, and neither does the Report of the Tribunal, any stiffening up of selection. That is a point of great importance.
But the blame, the criticism, cannot rest solely upon Mr. Pennells of the Admiralty. The blame must be shared by the Admiralty as a whole, including other members of the staff; and it is for the First Lord himself to decide how far he had responsibility. I am not making any accusations; I know that there are many things a Minister does not know, and sometimes cannot know, about what happens. But it is a fact that in the Crichel Down case the then Minister of Agriculture, the present Lord Crathorne, did not know, so far as my memory serves me, about what was happening there. One of the Parliamentary Secretaries did know, and offered his resignation, but the Prime Minister of the day, who I believe was Mr. Winston Churchill, declined to accept it. But, curiously enough, the Minister who did not know about it did resign in the middle of a speech in the House of Commons—which I thought was a curious occasion. He resigned because his conscience told him that the Minister had to accept responsibility for everything that happened concerning it. I am not going to tell the First Lord what he should do; and I am not going to go for him, because I know the difficulties of knowing everything about such matters.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I think, in all fairness to my noble friend, the noble Lord ought to be remembering that he is talking of a point 723 in time when Lord Cilcennin, and not my noble friend, was First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
It is true that during part of the time there was another First Lord. That is a perfectly fair point, I agree. But it is for any Minister in this situation to decide in his own conscience what is the right thing to do. In so far as it can be shown that the present First Lord was not the First Lord at any of the material time, which I gather is the point the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is making, I agree it would not be fair to pursue the argument—and, indeed, I have not even started an argument, but merely raised a question mark. There we are.
I must say with regard to the Civil Lord at that time, Mr. Galbraith—again I do not want to be unkind—that I think he has been lucky at the hands of the Tribunal, although perhaps the matters on which he ought to have been criticised do not particularly arise out of their Report. I never thought that his relationship with Vassall was—" appropriate "was the word I used, and I think it is a right word. I think the relationship between a Civil Lord and a clerical officer, when they get on to terms of "My dear Vassall", and "Dear Vassall" and steady thanks for the great work that Mr. Vassall had done for him, is out of proportion and is inappropriate. And, indeed, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who is now sitting there enjoying himself—I am glad to see it; it is a change—agreed with me that, in his judgment, that kind of relationship was best not carried on between a Minister and a civil servant.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I do not want that to be accepted at all. What I did say on that occasion about one's relationship with civil servants who are one's subordinates was that opinions differed, and that I, on the whole, favour a more formal relationship. But I said then, and I say now, that I thought the noble Lord was guilty of a grave error of judgment in making that animadversion upon my honourable friend.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
The noble Viscount had better look up the Record before he comes to reply.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
What he has said is substantially true; but what he also said, when he came to charge me with "ought not to use the word inappropriate" (I am trying to keep clear of political heat), and I explained what I meant by it—that I thought a certain distance ought to exist between Ministers and civil servants—was that he thought that was his own point of view; that he took much the same view.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Lord was attributing to me the view that the relationship between Mr. Galbraith and Vassall was, to use his word, "inappropriate". I said—and I have the passage before me—when the noble Lord said that that he was guilty of an error of judgment. I am quoting the noble Lord himself.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Yes; no other. I said in column 652 [Vol. 244] that it was an error of judgment. I accept the noble Lord's general doctrine about the relationship between a Minister and civil servants subordinate to him. I thought that his criticism of my honourable friend Mr. Galbraith was an error of judgment. I cannot accept that I at any time whatever accepted his word "inappropriate" in relation to the particular conduct or relationship of Mr. Galbraith and Mr. Vassall.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
As an ex-civil servant who had the honour of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, although he is quite unaware of the fact I must say that I entirely disagree with what he has said. I think the closer the relationship between civil servants and Ministers, in the best and most respectable sense, the better for the Service.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
The noble Earl is perfectly right to disagree with me, but I am not sure that the fact he served with me as a civil servant (which I regret to say I have forgotten) makes him a material witness in the little dispute I am having with the Leader of the House. I did not hear what the noble Earl just added, so I cannot answer. But the fact is that the Leader of the House has the opportunity to reply at the end of the debate; he has plenty of time, and he can look up the facts. I am on the second occasion when this little exchange of views took place, when he had thought earlier on that I had cast a reflection on Mr. Galbraith's moral character. I did not, because I do not know anything about it, and I did not know anything about it. What I explained was that I thought there was a certain distance that ought to be maintained between Ministers and civil servants, and that the relationship was inappropriate, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House agreed with me on that point.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
—but I think he must not attribute to me views which are directly contrary to those I hold. I did accept the general doctrine which the noble Lord enunciated. I did not agree to his description of the relationship between Mr. Galbraith and Vassall as inappropriate, and I said that to have said so was an error of judgment on the noble Lord's part; and I say so now. I am sorry that he should both persist in it and persist in trying to attribute to me some measure of agreement, as I think it was wrong to say it in the first place, and I think he is doubly wrong in having done it now.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
The noble Lord is not only getting up often, he is beginning to be cross. After all, I am maintaining a judicial poise, 726 and I am a spokesman for the Opposition, whereas the noble Viscount is Leader of the whole House and ought to be more judicial. But the fact remains that on my doctrine of the appropriate relationship between Ministers and civil servants, there is nothing material between me and the Leader of the House. So why should we quarrel about it? He is the last man in the world I ever want to quarrel with, and he ought not to try to provoke me into quarrelling when there is really no need.
At what point did others of the Admiralty come into the picture? If we turn to page 85—that is, if you have not gone out to look at Hansard—we find that the second paragraph of paragraph (1) in the Summary of Findings, having made the criticisms of Mr. Pennells, goes on to say:Given the system of selection which existed, the Admiralty officials who chose Vassall for the Moscow post exercised due care and responsibility and are non, to be criticised for having selected him.I find it difficult to accept that. An error was made in the selection of Vassall, and he turned out to be a "wrong un". Moreover, it was known that his income was £700 a year. It was known, either then or a little later, that he was living at a cost of much more than £700 a year. It must have been known; and I should have thought that at that point, at any rate, inquiries should be made, and I cannot understand why they were not.
I think that to give an overall blessing to the Admiralty's method of selection of a man to serve as clerical assistant to the naval attaché in Moscow, of all places in the world, is rather a sweeping attitude of complacency on the part of the Tribunal, with whom I do not wish to quarrel because I have a great respect for Lord Radcliffe, as we all have. He was assisted by one learned Judge and one Queen's counsel who are both able and respected men, and none of us is going to accuse them of anything lacking in objectivity or impartiality in this Report. Paragraph 2 of the Summary of Findings says:No criticism can be made of the fact that a clerical officer of Vassall's standing was employed on regular contact with classified material.From all we have read about Vassall in the Report and otherwise, he does not seem to me the kind of officer who should 727 be handling classified material, including top-secret matter. Nobody says he was particularly bright or intelligent. That may be an argument for thinking that he could not do the things he did. But it is also an argument for thinking that he might easily be a victim of an enemy's or a potential enemy's secret service. I think there is blame for employing an officer of that kind in handling top-secret and other secret material.
One of the things I cannot follow is that it is recorded that his custom, in dealing with the Russians in London, was to take out at night some classified material, let the Russians photograph it or photograph it himself, and bring it back in the morning. All this top-secret material is of great importance to the country. It might involve the lives of British soldiers, sailors and airmen, or British civilians. I should have thought that to let there be access by a junior clerical officer to all this stuff was in itself doubtful, and, secondly, that if they did it there surely ought to have been a check-up at night on whether all the documents were there, and again in the morning on whether the documents were still there. If that had been done, the truth would have been ascertained and discovered sooner than it was.
Moreover, it must be remembered that, in the absence of his immediate chief, the Private Secretary in the Civil Lord's Office, this man Vassall had a much greater access to secret material than was otherwise the case. He had an income of £700 a year, living a pretty high life, with a pretty expensive flat. He belonged to the Bath Club. It is only fair to say that he was a member of the Bath Club because he had been transferred there from his membership of the Conservative Club. I am not making a political point, but merely stating the facts. These things cost money, and I should have thought it was elementary, in those circumstances, that suitable inquiries should be made to find out how far he could afford this kind of life. It seems to have been assumed that he had some elderly ladies who were helping him, or that he had been left money, and so on. But I cannot understand why suitable inquiries were not made. Therefore, I cannot feel as complacent about the whole of this business as the Tribunal of Inquiry has turned out to be.
728 Then we get to Moscow. It is a great pity he ever went to Moscow. There it cannot be said that everything possible was done. Take the case of the Embassy of the Soviet Union in London. Do noble Lords think that we could play about with the Soviet Embassy in London to the extent that they played about with the British Embassy in Moscow? I doubt it. Probably their security arrangements are more strict, though I agree that their respect for civil liberty is far less. In this British Embassy in Moscow, apparently if we employ local labour (which the Report says is very difficult to avoid) we have to recruit that labour through an official Soviet agency, and they will obviously use that agency to plant spies in the British Embassy. I hope somebody will tell us—perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the House—what is the arrangement with regard to the Soviet Embassy in London if they employ British labour. That is, if they do. How do they recruit it, and is it, in effect, selected by the British Government? Obviously, if the Russians select local civilian labour to serve in the British Embassy in Moscow, they are going to use it for purposes of espionage. If we cannot help it, it is too bad, but I must say that it is a very unfortunate situation.
One member of the Embassy staff, Captain Bennett, was suspicious and reported his suspicion. It was nothing more than a suspicion and apprehension, I admit. He reported to the Minister and to the Ambassador, whereupon it appeared not to get much further. Moreover, there was the case of Miss Wynne, a shorthand-typist and a woman who seems to have been pretty well the brightest of the lot of them in keeping her eyes open for these things.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I agree with my noble friend—she deserves praise. It just shows that women are not necessarily fools in any case! That girl was the brightest of the lot. She reported it, but nothing much happened. I cannot find myself able to view with as much complacency as the Report of the Tribunal does the fact that effective action was not taken earlier in the British Embassy in Moscow, including by the Minister and even by the Ambassador himself. It seems to me that 729 they ought to have been livelier and more active on the matter earlier than they were; and here again I think the Tribunal are unduly mild. I have sought to protect them in a way about the observations concerning Mr. Pennells, but the fact that they made the observations about Mr. Pennells makes me a little more apprehensive and disappointed that they were not equally critical of the British Ambassador and the Minister in Moscow and some of the higher-ups at the Admiralty.
So these things happened and Vassall was knocking about in the city of Moscow. He was out making friends with other diplomatic missions, which, in itself is not too bad; but he was making friends with a good many Russians, and in all this he was aided, assisted and helped by this Russian man in the Embassy, Mikhailski, who was employed as a sort of assistant; a generally useful man who was used for the purpose of facilitating the social contacts of the Embassy, and was particularly successful in facilitating the social contacts of Vassall himself. The typist warned about this man, too. She warned that he was cultivating certain members of the staff, including Vassall. But nothing much happened about it; and something ought to have happened. It should have been followed up, because this was the machinery and the channel through which Vassall was being corrupted and could have been a danger to the Embassy in general.
A memo, was circulated and regular initial briefings were held, but there seems to have been one year missing even in the briefings, and I am afraid the security arrangements at the Admiralty were inadequate. I am clear also that the security arrangements at the British Embassy in Moscow were inadequate; and, of all the places in the world where they ought to have been effective and efficient, they certainly should have been in an Iron Curtain country. So far as I can see, no reports in the earlier stages were made as to the doubts about this matter to the Admiralty in London from the British Embassy in Moscow or from the Naval Attaché in Moscow. I can be corrected if I am wrong, but I do not think I am. It seems to me that there was not sufficient realisation of the dangers by junior staff. The heads of Chancery, two of them in turn, admitted 730 that there was no settled policy upon these matters. It seems to me they should have been criticised for not having a settled policy upon these matters. Pressure was brought to bear upon Chancery without effective result.
I admit, that if they had got rid of this Russian they would have had difficulty about replacing him without having someone equally unreliable. That is true, but I should like to know how the Government propose solving this problem, if it is the case, by using labour from London which is not needed. If they are using local labour in the Iron Curtain countries, is it the case that they must recruit this labour through a Communist Government agency? And, if that is so, are the Government doing their best to bring that to an end?
The Report on the whole finds no complaint against the Ambassador; yet the Ambassador himself on television has since said that perhaps he was remiss in certain matters. He has honourably admitted that he may have been at fault, but the Report pretty well makes him subject to no criticism at all. And Milhailski was at the Embassy until September, 1956, months after they had suspicions about him in this question.
So, my Lords, I do not think this is altogether a satisfactory Report. Recommendation 8 says that no blame is to be attributed to the security authorities in the British Embassy in Moscow or in the Admiralty, or to Vassall's colleagues, for the fact that Vassall's abstraction of documents was not detected sooner. For reasons I have given, I think that is unjustified. On No. 9 I have no observations. No. 10 says that no blame is to be attached to the decision to assign Vassall to a post in Naval Intelligence Division at the Admiralty immediately after his return from service in Moscow. The only defence is that he might have been useful in the Division because he had been in Moscow. On the other hand, I should have thought that it would be wise to let a period elapse after his return from Moscow before he was put into a highly specialised division, namely, that of Admiralty Intelligence.
I find this Report is useful, and I am sure that the members of the Tribunal have conscientiously done their best, but I do find that it is too gentle; it finds 731 too many excuses; and I think the Government, in the interests of the country, will be wise to stiffen up the security services and impress upon Ministers the vital importance of security. I know that the Ministers cannot personally and directly conduct their own security work; they must employ people for that purpose. But it is important for them to keep in adequate touch with it, because in this matter the security and liberties of our country are involved. I think the Government, after this experience, and the one before it, of the Portland case, and some others as well, ought not to be complacent, but ought to be active, alive and determined in stiffening up our security arrangements.
§ 4.8 p.m.
My Lords, as your Lordships know, this matter was debated yesterday in another place at great length and in great detail, with many and long speeches. We have again to-day had a long and interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, but, if I may say so with great respect to him, he covered rather a lot of the ground which has already been gone over in another House; and personally I have no intention of going into a detailed analysis of the Report which is before us. This is no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, but I feel that we are going to have a great deal of detail about this Report. If I may precede my remarks with a slight criticism of Government arrangements, I think it is perhaps a pity that debates in the two Houses should either coincide or come within a couple of days of each other so that it is rather difficult to arrange for fresh material to be brought forward which could be brought forward if the debates were separated by a slightly longer time.
I am going to preface my very short remarks by three points which, in a way, have a personal aspect. First, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and whose Viscountcy is so often anticipated by Members of your Lordships' House—on having put before us in his excellent speech the matter which we are now debating; second I would thank the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and his colleagues for the very big task which they undertook with great ability; and, third, I am glad of the opportunity, which I 732 think we all welcome, of saying how gratified we are that the honourable Member in another place, Mr. Galbraith, has not only been cleared of any signs of difficulty but has been reinstated in a place of honour. And I think I may say, though it is a personal matter and I am referring to a man whom I admire and like personally, that we are all delighted that the First Lord of the Admiralty, whose competence, integrity and friendly approachableness is always with us, has been completely cleared of any sort of stain on his character.
It is perhaps not very profitable to go again over all that has been said, but of course the seriousness of this matter is admitted. It is very serious; and I think that in the country at large these is a slight feeling that Her Majesty's Government have been either treating it somewhat—not frivolously, that would be the wrong word, but slightly lightly and not seriously enough. Those of us who heard or read the Prime Minister's speech in another place yesterday will agree that it was a serious speech and a good speech, of great detail; but there was running through it, in the minds of myself, and I think of a good many other people, just a thread of "The sooner we get this over the better; we could not have done more than we did; and let us forget all about it". I am not quite sure that we can take that line and absolve the Government as a whole from all responsibility. And from that point I am not going to say where responsibility should lie. A very able Court of Inquiry has gone into that and come to their conclusions, and I do not propose to be impertinent enough to say that I know anything better.
There was one point in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, with which, with respect, I would disagree. He took up the point that classified material—that is material of a very high security content—should not be accessible to the lower grades of any Department at all. But classified material is not made of gas; it is not made of imagination: it is made of paper, with words upon that paper. I do not know how many Admirals of the Fleet are expert typists. Somebody has to type these things; somebody has to file them. And to say that a junior member of any Department should never have access to such material does not seem to me to 733 make sense. Of course, such people must be severely vetted as to security, but we cannot really think of all top-grade classified material in a watertight compartment where only people who deal with it can see it. I think that the Government did act rather reluctantly, and could have acted more quickly; and I think that if they had done so that would have forestalled much of the hysteria in the country and the Press sensationalism, and even Party capital, all of which are most regrettable. The matter was handled adequately, I agree, but not in a way that gave confidence.
I think that perhaps Her Majesty's Government, having been in office for eleven or twelve years, are to-day losing sight of the fact that the people of this country are, by a large majority, against them and not for them; and they therefore have a very serious responsibility to look after matters and see that the country is very carefully conducted. Your Lordships will remember that in Canada a few years ago a Liberal Government came to an end, after a very long period of office; and I found, on speaking to responsible people in that party, Liberals, that they felt that it had lasted too long; that it was un-healthy to be in office too long; that they had got a bit slack and that a little time out of office did them no harm at all. I will not take the point any further, but: there is a moral to be drawn.
The Prime Minister has suggested there might be some sort of new Tribunal based, broadly speaking, on the Privy Council. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said he had a great admiration for Privy Counsellors and that they were marvellous; and I agree with the noble and marvellous Lord about that. Speaking as possibly the most junior Privy Counsellor I may say that it has crossed my mind, both before and since my accession to that Council, that the Council is not used as much as it might be. Membership of it is based on something, which I will not define. It seems that nowadays it is only the few Privy Counsellors who are members of Her Majesty's current Government (it may be any of the Parties) who are put to a useful purpose and set to work, it seems to me that here is an opportunity for selection of the Privy Council to take on some very 734 useful work in a way that I think would be helpful. It is suggested that possibly when a matter goes to a court of that sort it is sub judice, and that that is a disadvantage. I do not see why it should be a disadvantage. The alternative is that high-security matters should go to senior members of the Government, and I do not see why senior members of the Government are per se more fitted than intelligent members of the Privy Council to deal with matters of high security.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack suggested to your Lordships that the matter in which the Press is involved in this case does not really come into this debate, because it will be debated at a later stage. But, with the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord, I am under the impression that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, to be taken later on, deals entirely with the finance of the Press and does not deal with what I must call the behaviour of the Press, which it seems to me in this case has been quite remarkable. The calumny to which the two Ministers were subjected is really beyond bearing.
The law of libel may be a remedy. I have no idea at all whether the two Ministers are considering that. But the law of libel is not enough, because damages which would hurt a big national rich newspaper are not those which would normally be awarded to a private citizen, or even a Minister. Heavy damages, of perhaps £6,000 or £10,000, would not be of any deterrent nature to the newspaper concerned, and I suggest that damages, if any, should be those which really hurt; and in cases like that should be in the neighbourhood of half a million pounds or three-quarters of a million pounds. The objection to that, of course, is that people would say that Ministers would have rather an interest in hoping they might be blamed wrongly for things they had not done and, as a result, might make themselves very much richer. If a Minister does sue, it is only the paper itself which believes the calumny. They might be open to a charge of profit-making.
I think that newspapers, like motor-drivers, should be free only so long as they act with responsibility, and therefore there should be some restriction on them when they go wrong. I suggest 735 that since the Press Council seems to be incapable of doing as much as we should like it to do, there should be some further institution set up, a standing tribunal, perhaps somewhat on the lines of the Restrictive Practices Court, which could hear complaints from the public where newspapers with power had given wrong reports and inaccurate descriptions.
I would not even limit these inaccuracies to those which cause pecuniary damage: I would make it a rule that every newspaper which published an inaccuracy should be forced to correct it in the next issue, or within a very short time. This rule should not apply only when a paper insinuates that somebody is not honest; even when it says that a lady has gone to Ascot in a red hat, when, in fact she has gone in a green hat, the statement should be corrected in the next issue. The second duty of this standing tribunal would be, in my opinion, to report to the High Court with a view to actual suspension of the offending publication for several days or several weeks. That really would be a punishment which I think would be effective. But of course, at the same time, safeguards would have to be made to protect the technical production staffs against the follies and indiscretions which might have been committed by reporters and editors.
I am not going to keep your Lordships any longer, but there is just one further point to which I should like to refer. When I was listening to the debate in another place yesterday the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the official Opposition, the Labour Party, suggested that Mr. Vassall was rather well-connected, rather well-dressed, spoke the Queen's English rather well, and that, as a result, he was not vetted for security as stiffly as if he had been a boilermaker's son. There are some of your Lordships, including myself, who have a little experience of security and screening; and the fact is, of course, that it is completely without distinction one way or the other. If there is any difference at all, I should like to say—this is not from any snobbish reason—that those who are Ministers or rich or influential are screened more severely than the ordinary entrants into the Secret Service. I think that the right honourable gentleman who made that remark was going a long way, 736 taking a big step backwards, towards prolonging this enmity between those who employ and those who are employed. I regret it greatly. We have held it against the Conservative Party in the past. The Liberal Party has fought them, and will continue cheerfully to fight them, not only on that, but on their policy, their record, and on their failures. And the same with the Labour Party. But it is important, we think, that that sort of thing should not be said, particularly in the context of a matter such as we are discussing to-day, with which it has nothing whatsoever to do.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, this is my maiden speech, although not, in fact, the first time that I have got up to speak in this House. I had the temerity to do this, briefly, shortly before succeeding my grandfather in 1936. On that occasion I was somewhat disturbed by the literal transcription of my remarks which, I believe, were connected with a Traffic Bill. In spite, therefore, of the indulgence which I know this House always accords to a speaker on the first occasion, I do not intend to depart far from my prepared speech.
Nearly everyone, I think, agrees that the Radcliffe Tribunal have succeeded in extracting the truth from a great mass of conflicting evidence. They have also succeeded in doing what in my Service career I should have regarded as almost impossible—namely, to investigate a fire or breach of security without holding anyone seriously to blame. Satisfactory as this may be, it must lead to the conclusion that either the whole incident was unavoidable, or our security system could in some respects be improved.
For much of my life, my work has been connected with classified projects, and in my experience the weakest link in the security chain is not usually the regulations but the personal approach to them. All too frequently they are regarded as an unnecessary hindrance to getting work done and as something to which only lip service need be paid. This attitude is often fostered by the rigid and unthinking manner in which they are applied, sometimes amounting to firmly fastening, locking and bolting the front door while leaving the back door wide open. For instance, in my civilian experience there has been a time lag of up to six months 737 between the decision to release all information on a project to the technical Press, and the official revision of the security classification of this information. In the interregnum I was somewhat embarrassed by having one of my official visitors detained by the security staff.
Turning again to the Radcliffe Report, we are presented with a picture of our Embassy in Moscow as a beleagured fortress which depended for its very existence on some of the enemy who lived within its walls. At first it must be an unpleasant experience not to be able to speak freely to colleagues even within the apparent security of one's own office, and to be warned that all outside contacts must be suspect as spies. The human being is, however, essentially adaptable, and eventually familiarity breeds contempt. It is possible to live near an active volcano without too much fear of the consequences. It is at this stage, when the initial and possibly stereotyped warnings have lost their force, that the danger lies. In many people there is also a sense of pride which compels them to try to show that they can play with fire without being burned.
It is a fact, my Lords, that no member of one of the Iron Curtain countries dare to have close associations with members of our Embassy staff unless such associations have been sanctioned by the authorities for their own ends. We are told that in the British Embassy in Moscow all contacts with Russians had to be reported, but that this regulation was not enforced. Even had it been, it would probably have probed ineffective without a more positive and active surveillance of the staff's social activities. One would suggest that this should be combined with personal discussion at regular intervals with individual members of the staff on their social or individual problems. In the exceptional circumstances of Embassy life in an Iron Curtain country, this is surely not too great an interference with human liberties; because it is not only in the interests of the State, but also in the interests of the individual.
The alternative of increasing the severity of the vetting procedure has its limitations. No procedure yet devised for personal selection can claim a complete success; the best of us have many potential weaknesses in our character, and the difficulty is not so much to detect 738 those weaknesses but to assess their relative importance and how they might develop under difficult circumstances. The results of positive vetting are not always communicated to the person concerned. If they are adverse, his career may be permanently limited. There is often no possibility of defence. It is then a sentence without trial or right of appeal. Therefore, we should carefully weigh these factors before deciding to increase the scope of this procedure, in preference to what I would think was the fairer alternative of closer supervision of the individual's private life while working under exceptional circumstances.
At present, positive vetting is carried out by Departments under the control of different Ministries, and there is a strong inference in the Tribunal's Report that the application of these procedures may well not be completely uniform. If we admit that there is no reasonable certainty in any vetting procedure, it is right that every Ministry should be able to question and examine the papers of any person who has been previously vetted by another authority, and to make such additional inquiries as are deemed necessary if the post in which the person is to be employed is of particular importance or is a great security risk. On the grounds of efficiency, however, there would seem much to be said for carrying out the standard vetting procedures and maintaining the records under the control of a central authority. This is already done in America, and would ensure that all the papers concerning an individual would be available for scrutiny whenever re-vetting was necessary.
To summarise my main argument, we need what may be called the cloak-and-dagger approach to obtain information and to detect security leaks when they occur. But security as it concerns the individual must be a living thing, not only a code of regulations.
In conclusion, I should like to mention (because I have worked from the other side of the fence) the difficulty which I know the Press must have in obtaining information at an early moment from official sources. The use which is sometimes made of this information encourages those in authority, rather naturally, on occasion to withhold it. This situation could become a vicious spiral to which the Vassall case could give further momentum. I hope that the common 739 sense and public responsibility of all concerned will lead to a contrary result.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down has been a Member of your Lordships' House for a long time. I personally am extremely sorry, as I am sure are many of your Lordships, that he has waited so long before giving us his maiden speech. It has been a model one in delivery, in brevity and, above all, in the fact that he knows what he is talking about and has constructively put forward suggestions. They come from a man who understands the subject, and I have great pleasure in congratulating him on his speech.
Whatever may be said of my speech, I am afraid I cannot say that it will be a model of brevity. I will keep it as short as possible, but this is a long and involved subject. I propose to deal with only one aspect of it, the aspect of security; but even that will take quite a long time: because, having read the Report of the Radcliffe Tribunal—and I say this with diffidence—I have come to very different conclusions from those at which the Tribunal itself arrived. In order to attempt to carry your Lordships with me in reaching these conclusions, I must quote at considerable length from the actual Report itself.
This is, in general, a Report of inefficiency—inefficiency in very many places. I will try to divide them under separate headings. First of all, there is the general inefficiency of the system itself, the system devised for security. Here I should like to quote three extracts from the Report. First of all, paragraph 70, where it is written:The selection of Vassall, a weak, vain individual, and a practising homosexual, for appointment as Naval Attaché's clerk in Moscow can now be seen to be the decisive mistake in the history of this case. It exposed him to the attention of the Russian Intelligence Services in conditions in which they were most readily able to identify him for what he was and to compromise him. This is not to say that his selection was a mistake for which there must necessarily be blame. His weaknesses were not readily apparent and the Admiralty method of selection of staff for appointment as Naval Attachés' clerks, which we describe in the paragraphs immediately following, was ill-adapted for assessing strength of character and freedom from those defects which the Russians might exploit.740 Then in paragraph 24 the Report states:But Security Service records are kept for the purpose of tracing subversive activities and they are not intended to be a guide on the much wider issues raised by the conception of 'a security risk' … We know enough about him"—that is Vassall—now to say that he was already committed to homosexual practices, but this was a private matter and in any event information about homosexuals in general is not collected and recorded by the Security Service.Then paragraph 77 says:The security 're-vetting' of Vassall prior to his Moscow appointment … consisted simply of a check of his name against Security Service records to ascertain whether they contained any information about him indicating that he held subversive beliefs. This check was all that was formally required by the current security regulations.suggest that those quotations, by themselves, are sufficient to show that the system as it was then, and as it still is to a very large extent, is simply not sufficient to do what is required.
The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack said in his opening speech some words which were taken up by my noble friend, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—namely, that "The catching of a spy does not necessarily mean that something has gone wrong." It is perfectly true that it is a good thing to catch a spy; and there is nothing wrong with the spy-catchers, provided that they catch him in time. But there surely must be something wrong if the spy has been allowed to get into the system and operate undetected. The analogy drawn by the Lord Chancellor was that of an accountant. An accountant who finds an embezzler is worthy of praise, once having found him; but if the embezzler has been operating for some time, one is entitled to ask why the accountant did not find him earlier in the check; and above all one is entitled to ask how the embezzler got into the organisation in the first place. So I suggest that, on the grounds of general inefficiency of the system, it is clear from the Report itself that we have nothing to boast about and much to be ashamed of.
The reasons for this are many and I could not go into them with the knowledge which would be required, but I would suggest to your Lordships that one of the reasons is simply the mundane reason of cash. Some of your 741 Lordships may have read the interesting article by Mr. Chapman Pincher in the Daily Express on Monday, in which he contrasted the amount of money spent by Soviet Intelligence Services with that spent by our own. The figures he gave were that the Soviet bloc spent approximately £600 million per annum, whereas our expenditure is in the neighbourhood of £12 million. I am not saying that we should model ourselves entirely on the Soviet bloc in this respect, but there is a very wide difference there, and it is asking too much of individuals who are engaged in this job to expect them to do all we want them to do, and all that they should do, on such a relatively small amount of money. Who is to blame for this? Clearly, any blame must rest in this instance, as to the system itself, solely with the Government as a whole, and specifically with the Prime Minister, who is personally responsible for our security system.
Let me turn to a second and possibly minor point. What specific grounds were there for suspecting that Vassall was a security risk? Were there any which a reasonable person might have noticed before they were officially noticed? On this point I will quote only three aspects from the document. In paragraph 34 it said:The Russians indeed had caught him through his homosexual proclivity but…just as in the later years in London, there was nothing either in Vassall's conduct or conversation that indicated even to a sharp observer a man addicted to homosexual practices.It was pointed out later, however, that the Russians in fact were able to find this out in a very short space of time. If they could do so, why could not we, who should already have investigated him closely? Paragraph 34 goes on to say, referring to his fellow-workers:a number of them regarded him as effeminate or even ' a bit of a pansy'.But it was not considered sufficient specific reason for regarding him as homosexual or a reason why somebody should regard him with suspicion. Further it was said:He was effeminate, not manly ('a bit of a miss', as one fellow clerk said).…Finally, from paragraph 112, we learn that Mr. Johnson, an American journalist, and his fellow correspondenthad formed the opinion that Vassall was 'queer'.742 I think that shows that at any rate not only the Russian Secret Service, but many of Vassall's own colleagues and people who worked with him, had very firm suspicions that all was not well. I will return to that at a later stage.
Let us look what happened at the Embassy itself. I suggest to your Lordships that, regardless of the conclusion to which Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues came, there was very gross and culpable inefficiency in the British Embassy in Moscow during the whole of that period. The type of inefficiency which goes on, and which I believe went on there, is not something which is confined there or very rare. I myself came across it a good many years ago. I remember on one occasion in 1947 or 1948 going to Berlin. I went into one of the British military offices there and was rather impressed to see that the man on whom I was calling, a senior Army officer, had two wastepaper baskets, one an ordinary wastepaper basket and the other marked "Secret Waste". I thought what an increase in security there had been there since my last visit. But during the course of my visit, as we were drinking our usual cup of tea, a German civilian walked in with a large dustbin, picked up both wastepaper baskets, emptied them both into his dustbin and carried them out. My Lords, it is funny, but that is the sort of thing which happens, and it shows that regulations are not adhered to.
There is a second experience of my own, if your Lordships will bear with me. On one occasion I found myself in another Iron Curtain country, in Bulgaria. I was staying at the British Legation, as it then was, and at that time I was employed in some capacity or another in the Foreign Office. Apparently my Foreign Office pass had expired while I was out of the country, and it caught me up in the Diplomatic Bag. I have it here now:Foreign Office Pass No. 2346. Expires 31st March, 1950".It is signed "W. Strang". I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Strang, is not here. With it came a document:Notice to Holders of Foreign Office Passes",saying that it must always be produced et cetera, and also sayingIn no circumstances may this Pass be taken out of the country".743 Yet, my Lords, it was the Foreign Office themselves who sent it to me in an Iron Curtain country. That is the sort of thing which does, we know, go on the whole time; and that is the sort of thing of which there is ample evidence here in the state of affairs in the Moscow Embassy at the time.
I am afraid there are many extracts with which I hope I shall not weary your Lordships but which I will read because I believe they are of very great importance. Paragraph 30:… junior staff in the offices of Service Attaches are natural targets for attempted subversion by hostile agencies".It was accepted, it was recognised, that that was so. Paragraph 32:The manufacture of compromising situations of this kind must be regarded as one of the regular instruments by which the Russian Secret Service seeks to suborn and enlist British agents who can furnish it with information as to our State secrets. It has been attempted again and again… The prevalence of this danger to our security was perfectly well-known to Vassall's superiors at the Embassy in the years 1954–1956 and in greater or less degree to the junior staff".Paragraph 35:… only about eight months after his arrival in Moscow, the Russian Secret Service outside the Embassy had detected in Vassall an approachable homosexual ready for homosexual practices. … How could they see so quickly what no-one in the Embassy perceived at all?Question mark and no answer to that, my Lords.…it is known of Mikhailski.…"—the Russian or possibly Polish—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Surely, the noble Lord is mistaken. The answer is there in the following sentence which he did not read.
§ LORD WALSTON
There may be an answer which satisfies the noble and learned Viscount, but in view of the other things which I have already read to your Lordships I do not think that it is an answer which satisfies many noble Lords.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I was only saying to the noble Lord, that it was not accurate on his part to say: "Question mark and no answer", when what he appears to have meant was "Question mark and an answer" which he does not personally accept.
§ LORD WALSTON
I accept that as perfectly fair criticism, my Lords. The answer, I would suggest, is not one which gives great confidence. We now go on to the case of Mikhailski; that it was knownthat he was implicated in more than one other attempted compromise of Embassy staff…that he was a close friend of a diplomat in another Embassy, a friend of Vassall, who is reported to have been sent home from Moscow because of his homosexual leanings, and that he was concerned in yet another case of homosexual compromise affecting a third Embassy…there was evidently a close friendship between them "—that is Mikhailski and Vassall.
Now we turn to Captain Bennett, the Naval Attaché who was the superior of Vassall. He apparently… had certainly entertained a suspicion that Vassall might be a homosexual, what he described to us with perhaps some over-elaboration as a possible, latent homosexual'.Captain Bennett told us…that…when handing over to Captain Northey, he mentioned to him the suspicions that he had or had had that Vassall was a 'possible latent homosexual'. The latter did not recall this, though he thought it not unlikely. His own judgment of Vassall was that he was 'rather a pansy little man' ".So, my Lords, there is evidence that the Naval Attachés—both of them—did have certain suspicions of Vassall.
The Report, in dealing in general with the Embassy, goes on to say that there was not sufficiently strict control of association between members of the Embassy staff and locally-engaged employees until the end of the year 1955, and further,Our inquiries of the junior staff showed us that at this period there was no sufficient realisation of the reserve required in dealing with a man of Mikhailski's origins, nor were they all as clear as they should have been as to how far they could go in admitting him to their company.So there, my Lords, we have a considerable building up of fault-finding with our Moscow Embassy at that time.
Now we come to the actual case, which was touched on by my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, of the complaints put forward by certain members—two members, I believe—of the staff concerning this matter. Paragraph 143 says:…what is beyond doubt is that"—towards the end of 1955—one member of the staff of the Embassy had become increasingly concerned during that 745 year at the pattern of attempted penetration by the Russian Secret Service and the lack of understanding of the dangers on the part of some members of the junior staff; and in particular had kept an eye on Mikhailski and his deliberate cultivation of contacts. From time to time, though holding no official responsibility in this field, this member of the staff pressed Mr. Slater, the Head of Chancery, for at any rate more effective action in the way of warnings and for consideration of the wisdom of retaining Mikhailski at all in the Embassy service. Mr. Slater seems not to have been easy to persuade that any further action would be effective or necessary: but it is due to him to say that on 1st December, 1955, just before leaving for England on holiday, he issued a circular to all members of the Embassy staff reminding them of their duty to report. Russian contacts".Finally, on this question of the Moscow Embassy, paragraph 147 says:The history of action taken on this minute "—that is, the minute from the Military Attaché to Mr. O'Regan, the acting Head of Chancery—is obscure. Mr. Parrott, the then Minister, satisfied us that he had no recollection of ever seeing it or of speaking to the Ambassador about it. He could not explain Mr. O'Regan's reference to him in the minute. Mr. O'Regan is dead. The Ambassador could not remember seeing the minute, but told us frankly that he thought that he must have. Mr. Slater, who came back from leave at the end of January, remembered seeing it and remembered much further discussion with Mr. O'Regan and Mr. Burden (head of the administrative section) on the subject of Mikhailski, but he evidently thought that any positive action that the minute called for would already have been taken before his return.There, my Lords, you have a picture of people in an Embassy, all of them thinking that somebody else might have done something. That does not matter if it is a question of ordering the Ambassador's car if he is going to the opera; he may be kept waiting until the car is found. But when it is a question involving high security in what has been described as a "beleaguered Embassy", when it is known that the local staff are put there by the Russians themselves and must be acting in some subversive manner, and when dealing with attempts known to have been made on the staff of the Service Attachés, that is not a matter that can be treated in this way: thinking that somebody else may have taken action, not remembering precisely what had happened. My Lords, one cannot dismiss this lightly and simply say, "There is nobody to blame". The whole system is to blame, and the staff from 746 the Ambassador down who have any responsibility in this matter must carry blame; and so, I suggest, must eventually the head of the Foreign Office, the Foreign Secretary, who has the ultimate responsibility.
I turn for a moment to what happened in the Admiralty afterwards. Was there anything wrong in the Admiralty, either afterwards or during that time? Because let us remember that, although Vassall himself was employed during a large part of his espionage activities in the Embassy in Moscow, he was an employee of the Admiralty. There is, again, very much in the Report which bears on this. Paragraph 77 states:On 31st March, 1954, by which time Vassall was in Moscow, the field to which Positive Vetting was to apply was extended to include all posts giving 'regular and constant access' to Top Secret defence information. But even as Naval Attaché's clerk Vassall was not considered to be likely to have regular and constant access to Top Secret defence information and the Admiralty did not designate his post as one requiring Positive Vetting".Then paragraph 79 says:On 28th August, 1952, Mr. E. G. Willan of the Foreign Office wrote to Captain D. C. Ingram, one of the Deputy Directors of Naval Intelligence, and to the other Service Departments about the measures the Foreign Office had adopted in addition to a Security Service check to try to ensure that persons sent to posts behind the Iron Curtain were reliable; and invited the Service Departments to confirm that they also took particular care in selecting Service Attaches and their subordinate staff. Captain Ingram replied on 3rd October that '…personnel are always handpicked for such posts, careful attention being given to general character and reliability…You can, I think, therefore rest assured that all reasonable precautions are being taken to ensure that Admiralty appointments to Missions behind the Iron Curtain are not filled by personnel who may be likely to prove unsuitable, as special care is always taken when considering these posts'.So this was not just something which had happened because nobody had given it much thought: they had given it thought. They had taken the matter in, and they had assured the Foreign Office that they were taking all precautions.
But, my Lords, in an earlier paragraph it says:Owing to the heavy back-log which had then accumulated in obtaining clearances, partly owing to the constant increase in the number of Positive Vetting posts, it was decided that for the time being review cases should be deferred to the business of clearing cases of those who had not yet obtained their first 747 clearance. Vassall's review was therefore among those deferred…Then, in paragraph 154:And because at that time the special investigators carrying out the field inquiries involved in the Positive Vetting process were heavily overloaded and there was a serious back-log of investigations, Departments were necessarily employing many people in the first category of posts who had not yet been positively vetted…Finally, my Lords, my last quotation is from paragraph 198:However, the security arrangements in Military Branch were such that, if he had been a more adventurous spy, he could readily have gained access to a great deal of secret material … Key control was also less than adequate.My Lords, from that I think it must be apparent that, whether Mr. Pennells was to blame or not as the Tribunal suggests that he was, there were many others, some named and some not named, who must share a very large burden of the responsibility for the lack of adequate security in the face of warnings, in the face of knowledge, in the Admiralty itself. Once again, I do not know at what stage the responsibility should be pinned: whether it is in the Department of Naval Intelligence, whether it is in the First Lord's Office or on him personally—and I fully accept what the noble and learned Lord said, that during most of his time the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was not the Minister responsible. But, whoever it may be, we cannot get away with saying that there was nobody to blame other than Mr. Pennells.
Now let me deal finally with what I can only call the general complacency of this Report. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth has read out some of its conclusions, but I will read only three extracts, not from the conclusions but from the body of the Report, to substantiate the statement that it is in fact a complacent document.
It states:Neither Sir William Hayter nor Captain Bennett nor Captain Northey is to be blamed for not identifying him as a security risk on the ground of homosexuality and demanding his recall accordingly.Paragraph 65:We think that it can safely be taken therefore that no-one in the Admiralty who could be charged with any responsibility for concern with Vassall's security knew or ought to have realised that in fact he was a practising homosexual".748 Paragraph 211:If we had found that he"—that is, Vassall—was widely reputed among his colleagues for the possession of such qualities"—that is, homosexuality and extrava-gance—we should have thought it necessary to press for an explanation how it was that this reputation did not reach the ears of his successive supervisors, whose duty it was to know something of him. If we had found that even a substantial proportion of those who worked with him credited him with such a reputation we should still have been anxious to know how the supervisors had missed what they had seen. But in fact, as we have said earlier, our examination of the departmental witnesses revealed virtually no-one who had anything suspicious to contribute on this topic…I have wearied your Lordships with reading out so many extracts from this Report—and there are many more, as those of you who have read the whole Report will know—so that you can satisfy yourselves whether that last statement, that…our examination of the departmental witnesses revealed virtually no-one who had anything suspicious to contribute on this topic….is one which can be maintained in the light of that evidence. We in this country do not want—we refuse to have—anything approaching a Police State. But, my Lords, we must remember that we are dealing with an unscrupulous enemy, and bitter experience (and, remember, the Vassall case is not the only case) has shown us that our present methods of dealing with this danger are insufficient.
I will make only one suggestion, which was examined in the earlier Report by Lord Radcliffe and, I think, unfortunately, turned down. It is a simple one which does not bear too heavily on the freedom of the individual. It is the institution of spot checks on people working in classified departments as they come out of their Departments, to see whether they are in fact bringing anything with them to photograph. It would not, perhaps, find very much. It may be regarded as an infringement of the rights of the individual; but, after all, when any of us returns to this country, even from an innocent holiday in France, we are subjected to examination and may be subjected to actual physical search, even though it is not suspected that we are carrying anything more dangerous to 749 the security of the country than a bottle of brandy or a package of cigarettes. It cannot be maintained that if we are prepared, and quite rightly prepared, to put up with that form of spot checking by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise people can take exception to a similar spot check on those who have access to this highly classified material.
My Lords, this is a problem which cannot be dealt with—and I say this with all respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and his colleagues—from the armchairs of the Athenæum or from the atmosphere which pervades places of that kind. It must be dealt with by people who know, who really know, what "queers" and "pansies" are, and what it means when people refer to them in such ways; by men who are not unduly impressed by references from retired doctors, retired civil servants, Members of Parliament, or even by noble Lords, but who have a nasty, suspicious mind, who are prepared to suspect (and it is not a pleasant thing to say) people who belong to the same clubs as they do, people who have been to the same schools as they have, people who belong to the same trade unions as they do—who suspect, in fact, everybody. We must have people like that making these investigations. What is more, my Lords, these investigations must be carried out by people who are prepared to resort to all sorts of dirty practices—hitting below the belt, not playing the game, and things of that kind—if they believe that the security of this country is in jeopardy. Because unless we are going to entrust, under supervision, our security and our counter-intelligence to people of that sort, we shall never be able to control the menace to which the Vassall case, as only one example out of far too many, shows we are very susceptible.
§ 5.0 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, on February 6 in this House I asked Her Majesty's Government the number of Crown servants and ex-Crown servants convicted under the Official Secrets Act since 1951 and the total number of years of imprisonment imposed. The answer was eleven persons, and the number of years of imprisonment, as I subsequently learned, was 105 years. My supplementary question was to ask the number of journalists 750 convicted during the same period under this Act. The answer was none. I begin my speech with this introduction because I thought it might help to keep our debate in perspective. There might be some of your Lordships who would like to concentrate on the Press aspects of the Radcliffe Report. So far, this has not happened; and I am very glad. These aspects are not unimportant, but I should have thought they would be better discussed in debate on Lord Francis-Williams's Motion on the Press.
As your Lordships have realised, what matters most to-day, and always, is the safety of the realm and the degree to which it is being properly guarded by Her Majesty's Government. May I suggest that we continue to keep our eyes on this ball and not allow our attention to be distracted from it? Nevertheless, I think your Lordships may expect me, as the only (as it were) Press Lord here this afternoon, to say just a little about this small appendage to the main Inquiry and to express a few views, some of which may well prove distasteful to your Lordships, and others of my journalistic colleagues. In doing so, I must, of course, declare my interests. I am a director of the Daily Sketch and Daily Graphic Ltd., and I am an executive of Associated Newspapers, Limited. But, of course, when I speak in this House, like the rest of your Lordships, I represent no-one except my own conscience.
Setting aside the extravagances—and "extravagances" is a mild word—of certain newspapers and journalists in this affair, which I deeply deplore and which will no doubt be discussed in Lord Francis-Williams's debate, what is it all about? Wherein lies the main issue? As the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack says, it is simply this: should a journalist reveal the source of his information if called upon to do so by the proper authorities? Should he, or should he not, tell? My Lords, opinion in the journalistic world seems to be that he should not tell. There appears to be a feeling that newspaper men have a certain special sort of dispensation which separates them from ordinary folk and that they are in the same privileged position as priests, doctors and solicitors. I cannot share that view. True, newspaper men have the job—the quite 751 legitimate job, I think—of eliciting information from sometimes unwilling persons and from often more unwilling official sources. In ordinary circumstances I would say that they were perfectly justified in keeping to themselves the names of the persons to whom they have spoken—indeed it is their duty to do so.
But, my Lords, when it come to a matter of national security, surely that is different. The Radcliffe Tribunal decided, rightly or wrongly, that the interests of the State would be served if certain journalists before them were to say where they got their information from. At that point I should have thought that they would have had to "come clean". They decided otherwise—and, of course, they were perfectly entitled to do so. Again, if the principle of withholding journalistic sources is admitted, where will it end? What is a journalist? Is it a member of one of the unions? Is it a sporadic scribbler like myself? Is it someone who writes in the parish magazine about the birds and bees? Is it someone who has written a letter to The Times which Sir William Haley, in his divine and inscrutable wisdom, has rejected? My Lords, I say again, and with regret, that I cannot go along with this idea of privilege. But that does not mean of course that I am right—indeed, I am usually wrong. And whatever your own views may be in the matter, please remember this, my Lords: there have been two men in prison who decided that their consciences would not allow them to break that code. Prison is not a pleasant place to be in, however clear your conscience. As I have said to them, all honour to them!
And now perhaps your Lordships will allow me to get on to the main point, the only thing which, in the last resort, really matters. To put it bluntly, secrets have been sold to the Russians by British traitors employed by the Government and the country has been endangered. Who was to blame? How can we stop it happening again? To judge by the Radcliffe Report, that rather dim document, one would think that it was just one of those things—a little slip-up here, a little oversight there—nothing to worry about, but perhaps someone unnamed might be just a bit more careful in future.
752 In reading the Report I am inevitably reminded of that famous recitation by Mr. Stanley Holloway called "Albert and the Lion", a poem which, I am told, Lord Goddard is fond of reciting to people at appropriate moments. Your Lordships may recall that Albert, a particularly tiresome boy, and no doubt better dead, while visiting the zoo with his parents thought fit to approach the lion's cage and was eaten. Thereupon, although the parents were only mildly grieved, the law had to take its course. The matter came before the magistrate—you might have thought it would have gone to the coroner; but no; it was before the magistrate. And the way the learned "beak," after long and no doubt anxious deliberation delivered himself is recorded thus:The magistrate gave his opinion ' That no one was really to blame'.All the same, my Lords, the lion did eat Albert; and that should not happen in a well-conducted zoo.
More seriously, my Lords, this is a bad thing—eleven Crown servants in eleven years—and I do not think in any way to the credit of Her Majesty's Government. I am not talking about individual Ministers: I am speaking of the Government as a whole. Theirs is the responsibility before Parliament and the country, and they must shoulder it frankly and unequivocally. It may be that they could not reasonably have been expected to know what was going on. I do not know. But the responsibility for Departments and for the Civil Service is a firmly established principle of our Constitution which cannot be put aside. In confirmation of this may I quote Keith, who is known to your Lordships, who has written:The Cabinet is collectively responsible for the conduct of the executive Government.My Lords, there is no getting away from this. If it is any comfort to the Government I, too, am in much the same position. When the Press is criticised in this House, not only do I have to take responsibility for the newspapers for which I work—and I am glad to do it—I also have to "carry the can" for Lord Beaverbrook. My Lords and members of the Government, there is no justice!
Now may I come to the serious and. I hope, constructive part of what I want to say. All that matters is not so much 753 what has happened as what we can do to prevent it from happening again. I have a practical proposal to make to your Lordships: if homosexuality be indeed the greatest risk to our security—and I think this is generally accepted—why not remove the risk? Why do we not implement the second part of the Wolfenden Report? I know that the mere idea of this is repugnant to many of your Lordships; but we must accept the position for what it is. It is, I believe, recognised that there are many practising homosexuals in this country, as in all others—as, indeed, there probably always have been.
How many are there? The American, Professor Kinsey, in his authoritative if somewhat humourless Report, estimated the incidence of homosexuality as one in every 25 men. Personally, I refuse to believe it—but you know how thorough the Americans are, and Doctor Kinsey's evidence is massive and overwhelming. If we are to believe his figure, then out of 700,000 civil servants in this country, there are some 28,000 latent or practising homosexuals. Your Lordships may not like this, but I am speaking pure—or, if you like, impure—statistics. I am trying to give the facts such as we know them, or think that we know them. Of course, not all those concerned are in possession of secret material and are therefore not security risks, but there are enough to be a source of danger to this country. How can we detect them? If Vassall was not detected, and I should have thought that he was fairly easy to spot, how can we possibly find the others? Homosexuality is not a thing that people boast about.
Why are homosexuals such a risk? Why are they so sensitive to blackmail? Surely the answer is obvious. A man who is caught in an illicit love affair with a woman may suffer considerable inconvenience. He may to some extent lose his reputation, though nowadays promiscuity is not regarded as the serious thing it used to be. At worst, his wife may divorce him. But nothing else can befall him. A man caught in a homosexual act will go to prison and, as I have said before, prison is not a nice place to be in. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, told us why some weeks ago. And his career will be ruined. Small wonder then that the temptation 754 for him to pay up, to turn traitor even, may prove overwhelming.
Remove the penalty and you remove the danger. I would say that the day the Wolfenden Report is implemented in full will be the blackest day in the history of Russian espionage. I have broadly said that this proposal may prove repugnant to your Lordships. And more odious still is the thought that such a measure should have been forced upon us by our enemies. But we put up with worse things. Your Lordships have not forgotten Regulation 18B, which was the virtual suspension of habeas corpus. I always regarded that as Hitler's greatest triumph and our greatest humiliation. But we bore it—unwillingly, of course, but we bore it—because the enemy was at our gates. To-day the enemy is not at our gates, but he is not so very far away. I ask Her Majesty's Government not to dismiss this suggestion of mine out of hand. It is serious and it is logical, and I am sure that it would be effective. Let us do distasteful things lest we ourselves be devoured and destroyed.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who is always so delightful to listen to, puts me in something of a difficulty. I had the honour of proposing, before he reached the House, that the Wolfenden Report should be adopted and certainly he has my sympathy for his practical suggestion. I was at that time indeed described in some quarters as the non-playing captain of the homosexual team, a position which I am quite ready to yield to the noble Earl if he desires. But he did not seem to be quite honest in claiming that his particular argument in favour of the Wolfenden Report is one of the most important. I support the Wolfenden Report, and I hope that the noble Earl will soon put down a Motion about it, but I do not feel that this particular application of the issues is quite so important as he thinks.
The general aspects of the Report have been so well dealt with by my noble friends Lord Morrison of Lambeth and Lord Walston from this side, and will be covered in the winding-up speech by my noble friend Lord Silkin, that I want to deal with one point only. But before we come to that, although I feel some 755 hesitation, it is right for me to tell the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, how pleased we all are about what has been said about him in this Report. I say that I feel some hesitation, because, frankly, I think that it would be a little impertinent on my part to suggest that his honour need be vindicated by any Tribunal, let alone by myself. His honour is too safe in his own keeping and so well understood in this House for any reference of mine to be necessary, but perhaps the noble Lord will not object to it.
I want to deal with one point which has caused widespread concern. The Daily Telegraph says this morning:Few people have been entirely happy that the finger of blame in any way pointed to the late Mr. Pennells.That, in my opinion, is understating the case. I have found a widespread condemnation of the way Mr. Pennells has been treated in relation to others involved. The Prime Minister has seemed inhibited—and perhaps in view of his great office it is understandable—from really discussing the merits of the findings. He said yesterday [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 677 (No. 108), col. 243]:It is not for me to palliate or rebut the conclusions of the Tribunal on this matter after a most careful and thorough inquiry…He went on to say one or two other things which I will quote later, but I do not hesitate in my position to criticise the Report in this respect very sharply indeed.
It happened that I was taking part in a television programme on quite a different subject the evening on which the Radcliffe Report became available in journalistic and television circles. I asked the television people around the studio what the Report contained, as I had not seen it at the time. "Oh", I was told, "no one was blamed except a dead civil servant." That was certainly the first impact of the Report on the public. Mr. Pennells's daughter was visited by a courteous journalist from a high-class paper, who told her that her father was the only person blamed in the Report. That was the reading honest people would put on a hasty study of the Report. And too often, of course, the first impact of a Report of this kind is the last impact so far as the general public is concerned. I can only hope that it will not be so in the case of Mr. Pennells.
756 I should be told that it would be wrong for me to suggest that Mr. Pennells is the only individual blamed. I should be told that the facts are placed in front of us and we are left to draw our own conclusions. Certainly we are left to make our own criticisms, and they have been given freely in the House of Commons yesterday and here again to-day. On the strength of material in the Report, at least one naval attaché in Moscow (I am trying to avoid dragging in names), at least one security officer in the Admiralty and certain high people, starting with the Ambassador, at Moscow, can be criticised. I am not suggesting, therefore, that the facts are withheld in this Report.
I feel, however, that at one important point these facts are clarified in a very interesting article, which has not been referred to to-day or yesterday, that appeared in the Spectator last Friday by Brigadier Davidson-Houston, who was military attaché in Moscow during the Vassall period there. He is, therefore, an expert witness; and, if I may, I should like to read one paragraph, which does not differ from the quotations from the Report which my noble friend Lord Walston has given, but which does focus one's opinion rather well:From the British side, however, the main question is why Mikhailsky's cultivation of Vassal and several other members of the Embassy, which was duly reported to the acting Head of Chancery, was not properly followed up.While there can be no excuse, there are several explanations. Vassall's own superior, the Naval Attaché, was absent on duty at the tune, and when he returned I—that is, Brigadier Davidson-Houston—was on tour.The Head of Chancery was on leave, and his deputy did not see fit to act on his own responsibility. I once more warned my own staff of the risks attaching to social contacts with Soviet citizens, and particularly with Mikhailsky, but for the reasons given similar action was not taken in the case of the other known 'targets' In other words, the coordinating machinery, which had been set up for just such an eventuality as this, failed to work.That is what he says, and he certainly had no reason for denigrating his colleagues, or himself, for that matter. There was no excuse for this. This was surely the crucial failure; a collective failure, no doubt, but a very grave one. On this matter, I feel that Brigadier 757 Davidson-Houston added to our appreciation of the facts, and for the rest I am content to take them as we find them in the Report and will not go over them all again.
On the question of homosexuality, I should like to make one point that has been made so often before but which has not been alluded, to much to-day. The Tribunal say in paragraph 34 thatThere was nothing either in Vassall's conduct or conversation that indicated even to a sharp observer a man addicted to homosexual practices.This hardly seems true, in view of the suspicions ventilated by Captain Bennett. But, even if it were true, it would have to be set against the fact stated in the same paragraph of the Report:The Russians indeed have caught him through his homosexual proclivity.They "spotted" him as a homosexual almost at once, but with vastly greater opportunities we completely failed to do so—in so far as we did fail to do so, although there will be some who will say that collectively, so to speak, we gained the idea that he was a homosexual, but did not do anything about it. There, again, that may be called a collective failure, but it was a dismal failure, just the same.
I am not concerned in these remarks to point the finger of blame away from Mr. Pennells and towards other individuals; that would need much greater time, though I do not think it would be impossible. I am simply saying that, where there was so much failure, it is grossly unfair and, frankly, spoils the whole impression made by the Report, to pick out one man—a dead man, incidentally—and make him a kind of public scapegoat, particularly when he is unable to give his side of the story.
The worst feature of this occurs in the summary. Lord Radcliffe (and I must pay tribute to his services in this and so many other fields) not long ago was Chairman of a Committee on Monetary Policy whose Report was rather remarkable for not having a summary. People said: "Cannot they make up their mind? Why cannot they give us a summary?" Goaded on by that criticism, I suppose, they have a summary to this Report; and the Summary is the worst feature of it. In the 17 paragraphs of the Summary no individual person, with one 758 exception, Mr. Pennells, is criticised for anything. Paragraph 5 of the Summary goes to the limit in exonerating the Embassy in not detecting Vassall's homosexuality. But in the first paragraph of the Summary, which is bound to give it extra prominence, they say:Mr. H. V. Pennells, Civil Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, was remiss and lacking in judgment in not giving proper attention to Foreign Office warnings about the need for careful selection and in failing to take any effective action to have the Admiralty's system reviewed.No other individual is mentioned in this long Summary in a critical sense.
The Prime Minister, who was trying to do his best for the memory of Mr. Pennells without differing from the Report—though he did not give his version as he might have done yesterday—announced that the Tribunal expressly said thatit did not censure the officers it had named. It recorded only errors of judgment.As the Prime Minister has said that, and as in the eyes of some he is infallible, I am sure that the particular sentence must come somewhere in the Report that the Tribunal did not censure the officers it had named, but only recorded errors of judgment. That is not true. The Prime Minister, inadvertently, was not telling the truth. He was saying something that is not right, because they say that Mr. Pennells was not only lacking in judgment, but he was remiss. That is censure. I do not understand a use of the word "censure" which does not include remissness as something that has to be censured.
In the Report Mr. Pennells is referred to as:keen, hardworking; an officer to whom N.I.D. owed muchBut they mention that he was an officera little lacking in imagination".That is an extraordinary comment. It is broadly true to say that he is the only officer throughout this careful and, in its way, thrilling Report whose personal abilities are disparaged. This remark is dragged in to show that he is in a category by himself. The rest must not be blamed, but Mr. Pennells had erred in some peculiar way, due, no doubt, to this weakness of imagination. The general public are bound to draw the conclusion that Mr. Pennells was much more to blame than any other individual. 759 With respect, I think I may say that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, helped us here, because I understood him to say, though I did not take down his words, that in his view and in the view of the Government Mr. Pennells was not any more to blame than certain other individuals. Am I wrong in that?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I do not think those are precisely the words I uttered; but the noble Lord will be able to see to-morrow what they were.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I suppose that means that the noble and learned Lord cannot remember them. I am hopeful that my recollection is better than his. It is quite clear that he is speaking for the Government and not entirely for himself.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I think I can come to the help of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, because I believe I remember the passage to which the noble Earl who is now addressing the House is referring.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am sorry, but I think that what my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack said was that the censure of this officer was no more severe than the censure that is contained in paragraph 152 of the Report, which the noble Earl will find at the top of page 47.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think I can help the noble Earl, now that I am reminded of the words I used. I did say this: that it would not be right to attach more weight to the criticism of Mr. Pennells than to this latter criticism. It was the criticism in relation to the action not taken on the minute.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I think my recollection of what the noble and learned Lord said is substantially accurate; and we must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, for giving the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack time to refresh his memory about the speech he delivered, I suppose now about two hours ago. I feel that, at any rate, it has all been helpful, and I am very much obliged.
760 The case in defence, so to speak, of Mr. Pennells has been set out in the other place yesterday in more than one speech, and very ably, in a document which was presented to the Prime Minister by Mr. Pennells's daughter and son-in-law, and which is available to any Member of the House. I do not propose to go into it at length, but I want to call attention to a central point. Mr. Pennells was criticised; and there is only one criticism, though one could argue about some of his other activities. But the entire criticism launched in this Report against him is that he did not give proper attention to Foreign Office warnings about the need for careful selection, and that he failed to take any effective action to have the Admiralty's system reviewed.
The criticism is tied to a Foreign Office memorandum of April 16, 1953, in which the need for proper instruction and selection of staff selected for Iron Curtain posts was emphasised. We are told that this memorandum was studied (and this is rather important if we are trying to make up our minds if the Report by Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues is fair) in the Naval Intelligence Department by, among others, the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Security, who had a special responsibility in this field. Let me repeat that this famous warning memorandum was studied not only by Mr. Pennells but by the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence and others.
The whole burden of the criticism in the Report of Mr. Pennells is that he alone failed, or failed in some special way in relation to this Foreign Office memorandum. Yet the more closely one studies the Report, the more convinced one is, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said earlier, that the failure, if there was failure, was a collective failure by the Admiralty. Mr. Pennells is dead, so we cannot even tell, as he has not had a chance to defend himself, whether he should take a share of the responsibility for this failure. I call it a failure, because I think we must see it in that light, though it is very doubtful whether, whatever the system of selection was at that time, it would have prevented the selection of Mr. Vassall. After all, Vassall survived a much stricter form of vetting at a later date when he returned. The Commission 761 themselves agree. They say that Mr. Pennells ought to have done something about this memorandum; but they agree, with all the wisdom of hindsight, that it would be difficult to devise a satisfactory system. Yet they blame this unfortunate man for not taking more initiative.
The Commission mention three possibilities to illustrate what he might have done. One of these possibilities—they regard them only as possibilities—had already been pressed (and turned down) by Mr. Pennells himself, which was the removal of the bar on married clerical officers. As we all know now, married clerical officers were not then sent to Moscow because they were thought to be too expensive. That is a shocking indictment of someone. But poor Mr. Pennells had tried to get this altered, and he had not been listened to. The Tribunal would have been more chivalrous if they had mentioned there what they mention elsewhere, that he had in fact pressed for one of their own three suggestions. But I am afraid there seems to be some special standard applied to Mr. Pennells. If one asks why, one cannot help connecting this inferior treatment with the fact that he was not able to give evidence to the Tribunal to give his side of the story. I am not suggesting for a moment—and nobody who knows Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues would suggest—that the Tribunal found it convenient to single out a man simply because he could not reply to their criticism. That is not my point at all—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I was trying to deal with a query from another Member of the House, and I am sorry if I was not at the moment paying attention to the noble Earl.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I hold the Floor, but the other noble Lord has captured the Front Bench, I see. It is not for me to dispute the rights of my old friend Lord Killearn. I am anxious for the noble Viscount to know what I am criticising the Tribunal for. I am not saying that they singled out a dead man because they knew he could not reply to them. That would be a base allegation on the part of anybody who knows the authors of this Report. But I say that his case has suffered immeasureably because he was not there to look
762 after his own interests; nor was anybody empowered to look after them.
It would be unfair to suggest that all the others concerned "passed the buck", in the sense of saying, "Please Sir, it was not me, it was X". But where there was this collective failure each one, not unnaturally, seems to have "passed the buck", in the sense of clearing himself and leaving the responsibility undecided. At any rate, that is where, for example, in the case of the Moscow Embassy, the Tribunal left it. They said that they could not distinguish the responsibilities. I am bound to say that in that situation they strained every nerve to avoid passing any severe criticism on any individual, and they might have least have strained one more nerve to avoid criticising someone whose case they had not heard. The Prime Minister tried to bring some consolation to Mr. Pennells' family yesterday, and I respect him for it. The Leader of the House of Commons, Mr. Macleod, went so far as to say (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 677 (No. 108), col. 368]:It is not possible to hear Mr. Pennells' side of the case, and this single error of judgment, if, indeed, he were guilty of it, does not affect the fact of his life of faithful service to the Crown.I feel that that was an improvement. The speaker was not alleging that there was necessarily an error: he said merely an error if there was one: he was not assuming that the Tribunal was necessarily correct. It seems to me that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has helped further this afternoon, and I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, when he replies, will remove to the best of his ability the slightest slur.
I can only say this; and I say it quite deliberately. I am glad that we are being asked only to "take note of" this Report. For the reasons which I have laid before the House, I do not consider it, for all its masterly presentation of facts and brilliantly gripping narrative, a document of altogether balanced conclusions. It would be unjust to conclude of the greatly respected authors that such men had been negligent of their public duty. But in my view they were in one respect, at least, remiss and lacking in judgment. In using those words, I am not passing any censure, because they are the words used about Mr. Pennells, and the Prime Minister said that they did not contain a censure. But I stand by these words, and I 763 can only say that I am glad we are not being asked to vote. I myself could not have cast a vote which would have given this Report unqualified approval.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am glad that, both in another place yesterday and in this House this afternoon, the discussion has not gone at all on Party lines. I think that on both sides of the House there may be some criticism of the Report, and on both sides of the House there may be recognition of the great value of very much that is in it. May I say at once to the noble Earl who has just resumed his seat that I think he was a little unfair to the Radcliffe Tribunal in overlooking some of the things they said in paragraph 84 of the Report? They began that paragraph by very much regretting the death. They say:Mr. Pennells is dead and we cannot know his side of the story. His reputation is that of a keen and hard-working officer who was a little lacking in imagination, an officer to whom N.I.D. owed much.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I do not think the noble Earl quoted the words a little later in the same paragraph:It would be unjust I to conclude that such a man had been negligent of his public duty.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am sorry. At any rate, I thought it was right that it should be made quite clear that those words were included in the Report.
I agree with all the noble Lords who have spoken, that we are greatly concerned with this question of security. It seems to me that, on the whole, the Tribunal's painstaking Report finds persons guilty of only minor failures or errors of judgment. So great is my respect for my noble and learned friend Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues that it is with the greatest hesitation that I venture on any criticism. But I am bound to say, when I read the whole Report, that it seems to me that the passages on security seem to be unduly mild, if I may so express it. To describe them as complacent would be going too far, but sometimes what they say is, I 764 think, a little surprising in its hesitation to condemn. I am paraphrasing now, but as was said by The Times on the morrow of the publication of the Report: whatever the Report does to vindicate the honour and integrity of individuals, it certainly does not vindicate our security arrangements. As I have said, I am mildly critical of this part of the Report, of their attitude towards security, and I wish to give the House three examples where, it seems to me, the breakdown deserves emphasis, especially if our supreme object is, as I am certain it is, that things of this sort shall not occur again.
The first example is what has been mentioned in several of the speeches on both sides, what happened in our Embassy in Moscow. And whatever may have happened at an earlier stage, it is quite obvious from paragraph 146 of the Report that once our Military Attaché had passed a minute to Mr. O'Regan, who was acting as head of the Chancery in Mr. Slater's absence on leave, giving information about Mr. Mikhailski, the position changed. It will be remembered that Miss Wynne volunteered information definitely naming Mr. Vassail as one who should quite clearly be the object of inquiries. My Lords, what was the reason that no effective action was taken on this? Some reasons are suggested in the beginning of paragraph 149, which runs as follows:Looking back now, it is not easy for us M account for the inaction over this minute. It seems probable that it was due to the combination of two separate circumstances—Mr. Slater's absence on leave and Captain Northey's absence in Warsaw.If a minute of that importance can fail to produce any adequate action for such reasons, that seems to me to be a failure in security deserving rather more emphasis than has been given to it by this Report of these very distinguished men.
Let me give my other two examples. If noble Lords will turn to paragraph 198 of the Report they will find that is one of the paragraphs referring to the protection of documents, and to the position in Military Branch. Perhaps I might read the last sentences of the paragraph:It was not the practice to segregate the more highly classified documents and store these in the more secure cupboards fitted with detector or combination locks, and to use the 765 less secure suite cupboards to house only the less sensitive material. Staff used whichever cupboards were available to them in their rooms for storing all their material, regardless of its classification, and regardless of the type of cupboard. Key control was also less than adequate.Having said that in that paragraph, the Tribunal begin the following paragraph with words that I frankly find astonishing:We have not found any reason to think that Vassall exploited this situation or that it contributed in any way to his espionage activities, otherwise we should consider those responsible deserving of censure.I confess that I find that doctrine very astonishing. Had this spy been a little more intelligent, this lack of security might have had more serious consequences; and only in that event, apparently, would they have considered somebody deserving of censure. I cannot think that that shows a consciousness of the need for the greatest security that must be observed in the future.
Let me come to the third and worst of my examples. What happened when there was at last what is called "positive vetting"? If anything was important I should have thought it was positive vetting. Why on earth was Captain Bennett, under whom Vassall had served in Moscow, and who had at one time submitted adverse reports on him, not asked about Vassall? Why was he not asked what he thought about him? I find only one reason given—it is in paragraph 170 of the Report. Mr. Sherwood was the officer principally concerned in this vetting, and the reason given for the failure even to ask Captain Bennett his opinion about Vassall was this:Mr. Sherwood told us in evidence that he had it clearly in his mind that he had sought to interview Captain Bennett and that the reason he did not see him was because he was informed by the Admiralty at the time that Captain Bennett was on his way to the Far East. This was clearly an error, as Captain Bennett was then stationed at Portsmouth.The "error" that Captain Bennett was stationed at Portsmouth when he was thought to be on his way to the Far East may or may not, I suppose, be serious. But why on earth should it be supposed that, if he was on his way to the Far East, he should not have been asked in the security vetting what he thought of the man who had worked under him? It seems to me that, if positive vetting is to mean anything at all, one of the most essential features must surely be to find 766 out the view of those under whom the man had previously worked in the Services.
My Lords, I now pass from the subject of what seemed to me to be an unduly mild attitude to the very serious security failures. I agree entirely, of course, with what my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack said, that the catching of the spy was not evidence of—
Will my noble and learned friend permit me to interrupt him? I think he has been rather unwittingly unjust to the Report here. My noble and learned friend quoted Mr. Sherwood's account of why he did not seek further information from Captain Bennett, but I think that, in fairness to the authors of the Report, he should have said, as the Report does:Even allowing for hindsight we believe his judgment erred…It then proceeded to attack Mr. Sherwood by name, then Mr. James and Mr. White and then Mr. Cardo, all of whom the Tribunal say were guilty of error. This may be censure too mildly, though that is a matter of opinion, and one that I do not wholly share. But if a fair judgment is to be made of the Report it is not fair to quote, as my noble and learned friend did, the explanation of Mr. Sherwood as if it had been accepted by the Tribunal: because in fact they had expressly rejected it.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for intervening. It was my carelessness, because I find that I have marked by the side of paragraph 171 the words which immediately followed what I had been saying, and which, I quite agree, refer to this "error of judgment". Paragraph 171 concludes:Officers were expected to use their discretion and if in doing so they came to the conclusion that it was unnecessary to pursue their inquiries about one period of Vassall's life so far as we consider that they should have done, this does not mean that they were negligent or that they failed in their duty. They were however in our opinion guilty of an error of judgment.I am grateful to my noble friend. I had marked that passage and I should have read it out at the time. The principle for which I am pleading is that if positive vetting is to mean anything opinions that must be sought are those of persons who have previously 767 had the man under investigation working under them, and even if this man had been somewhere on the high seas or distant there was nothing impossible, it seems to me, about obtaining his view of the subject.
I pass from those three security matters, which I think are worth mentioning, to what my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack said about a Tribunal of Inquiry. I am quite certain that cases will arise from time to time in which it will be absolutely essential to have an inquiry to ascertain the truth in the public interest, land although a Tribunal of Inquiry under the Statute under which it is set up may have some defects which conceivably can be remedied, I am certain it was night that it should be used in the present case.
The only other subject I wish to mention is this question of disclosure of sources by journalists. I rejoice very much that it has been made clear by a decided case of the greatest authority that journalists have no privilege not to disclose their sources. One of my noble friends in an earlier speech (I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Arran; I cannot remember) talked about the privilege of the priest or the doctor. There is no privilege in law for the priest or the doctor. The priest who has heard a confession, the doctor who has been consulted by his patient, the banker who has been entrusted with business secrets—not one of them has any right to refuse evidence required by the Court. It is really, in my submission, not an arguable proposition that a journalist should have that privilege that is not recognised by the law for anybody else.
That does not mean, of course, that it is wrong for a journalist generally to refuse to disclose his sources, especially if he has expressly or impliedly promised secrecy. Nor does it mean that a Judge will require him to disclose the source unless there is a compelling reason. But if there is a compelling reason, in order to obtain evidence required by the Tribunal that is concerned in the matter, then the journalist's duty is, quite clearly, to give the evidence he is asked to give. I would ask noble Lords who are interested in this to read the judgment of my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, in the case in which this matter was finally 768 made clear. I would also, if I might, commend to noble Lords, even the laymen and not merely the lawyers who probably see it in any event, a very good note on the subject in the current number of the Law Quarterly Review.
It is sometimes suggested that this somehow is a failure to recognise the freedom of the Press. Those great words, "the freedom of the Press", have been used by some people to justify some very curious conduct. I have, and I hope I shall always have, great friends in the great profession of journalism. But I do not believe that journalists have been well served by those of their purported friends who have tried to defend some of the things they have said and done in the matter which is the subject of the Report of the Radcliffe Tribunal. In a remarkable maiden speech in another place yesterday, it was pointed out with great force (I am not giving the words, but paraphrasing the argument) that if you quote speculation as fact, or invention as truth, and then refuse to give your sources, you may really be giving the greatest support to the development of the doctrine and practice of the late Senator McCarthy. I cannot think of any single thing that would make McCarthyism easier than if journalists were able to publish any rumour they liked, or even to invent a rumour, and then in court were allowed to refuse to state their source.
In the case of Senator McCarthy himself, what finally brought him down was an inquiry by a Committee of the Senate with similar powers to those of our Select Committees of examining and asking questions; it was the pressure of their questions that showed that the rumours which Senator McCarthy had used with such deadly effect were in fact utterly false. I beg noble Lords, to whatever Party they belong, to hesitate long before they claim for journalists a right to refuse the request of a Court to state the sources of something when the information is necessary for the matter into which the Court is inquiring. The essence of the trouble, of course, is to treat rumour as fact. I think I am right in my memory in quoting something which once appeared at the beginning of a leading article—though I cannot give even the approximate date. I know I have 769 it somewhere in my collection of newspaper gems; I think it was an evening paper—and the magic words have always stayed in my mind. They were these:It is a fact, but nevertheless true, that…".I think that story and that attitude to the truth perhaps carry a lesson which journalists might bear in mind.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made a very remarkable speech, I think we should all agree, on the important subject of the disclosure of sources. It was to this subject that I was intending mainly to refer. Because he is a noble and learned Lord I hope that perhaps he may be able to give me some advice on this particular matter which is worrying me, or possibly the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, who is also noble and very learned, can help me when he replies.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Arran—and I am sorry not to see him in his place—I am a journalist, though not on the same exalted directorial level as the noble Earl. I am a reporter, as were the Evangelists, though I write on rather different subjects. This is an interest, though in my case a minor one, which, like the noble Earl, I ought now to declare. But I should like to say at once that this fact does not make me seek for a moment to excuse the publication of calumnies in this ease to which my noble Leader, Lord Rea, referred in no uncertain terms in his speech; on the contrary, I agree with what he said. But the treatment which was accorded to the so-called silent reporters, Mr. Mulholland and Mr. Foster, and in a smaller degree to Mr. Clough, which is quite another matter, has caused much disquiet in my profession and in the country at large. The principle involved here has, I think, led to much misleading comment. Only yesterday in another place Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe, for instance, is reported as having said that—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will recall that it has been established not to be customary in this House to quote the actual words of a Member of another place.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for that remark. I 770 was going to paraphrase slightly the words of the honourable gentleman, and to say that he had implied that, if there were no sanction of any kind against a journalist who refused to disclose the source, then it would be possible to publish anything, however damaging, and the person thus damaged would have no recourse whatsoever to the Courts. I feel it is hard to understand how such a position can be put forward, because surely it is the case that sources in such cases are completely irrelevant. A libel action can be brought if defamatory matter has been published, whether or not the source of that material has been given. The fact that I have written something defamatory leaves me open to being sued for libel, even if I refuse to reveal what my sources are; and in most cases I believe, with all due respect to my noble Leader, that a libel action presents the most suitable remedy for a person who has been damaged, though possibly in this case it would not have been enough.
However, in the present case sources were, for once, relevant for a particular reason: they might have given additional evidence to the extent to which Vassall's homosexuality was known to other colleagues of his. The revelation of sources can again only be relevant in the future in similar special circumstances, which fortunately are rare. Therefore, there can be no question of forcing journalists to reveal sources except when a Tribunal happens to be set up to investigate the matter reported. But I want to ask, just how important was it to know these particular sources in the matters in which they were refused? Surely, the mere fact that reporters refused to reveal them, and that no one came forward in two cases out of three to say, "I was the source" indicates that the allegations made were not widely known; and this was the only relevant question so far as the court was concerned. Secondly, does the Report not reveal that there was already ample evidence that Vassall's homosexual proclivities should have been recognised? Here, I should like to say that I certainly do not hold that, because a man is a homosexual, he is a bad security risk. I think this should be mentioned. It is because he is a homosexual that he is vulnerable to black-mail, and it is for this reason that a homosexual should be regarded with suspicion.
771 As noble Lords have pointed out, we know from the Report that the Russians tumbled to Vassall's weakness after no mare than eight months. Here I must say that, despite the interjection of the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, when Lord Walston was drawing attention to these points, we do not have any clear idea of how the Russians tumbled to it, because in the relevant paragraph the Tribunal writeWhat we say here is partly conjecture rather than demonstrable fact".We are not told how much is conjecture and how much is fact. This seems to me to be reporting of a similar kind to that which has been condemned in the public Press, because no sources whatsoever are given and we do not know how much of that statement is fact and how much is conjecture.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, that is not really a fair statement of the Report. The fact is that the Report has said as plainly as it can be said that the reason why the Russians discovered the homosexual proclivities of Vassall was that Mikhailski had done it with him. This may be conjecture or it may be fact, but when the evidence is given in camera, and has to be so given for security reasons, it is unfair to attack the Tribunal for slanted reporting.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
If one had access to additional information, which we have not, I am sure the position might be clearer. But from paragraph 35 it is not clear, if one looks up the point, because of the proviso that "What we say here is partly conjecture, partly fact." How much is conjecture and how much is fact? We know from the Report, too, that Vassall was generally considered to be effeminate. Someone described his as being "a bit of a miss"; somebody else as being "foppish". We know that in paragraph 106 the Report says:Most men in the junior ranks would refer to him…as Vera".Then we come to Captain Bennett's evidence. He was the Naval Attaché. Captain Bennett mentioned to his successor, as long ago as 1955 that Vassall was a "possible latent homosexual". Before Vassall was arrested, he said that in his opinion Vassall was "an 772 undoubted homosexual." These facts are stated by the Report, and one cannot help asking oneself why no action was taken then, why no action was taken when Captain Bennett told Captain Northey that this man who had access to official secret documents was a "possible latent homosexual". Surely before employing that kind of person one should make a careful investigation. Captain Northey himself described Vassall asRather a pansy little man.I do not quite know what he meant to convey by that. The Ambassador in paragraph 127 spoke of Vassall's "obvious weakness". I do not know what he meant there by "obvious weakness"; there is no elaboration of that. But when a man is said by the Ambassador to have an obvious weakness of character, of professional ability—we are not told why he should have access to secret material. These are only some of the grounds for suspicion of Vassall which existed, and no action was taken at all until far too late.
I would submit that if the reporters had revealed their sources of the information which they refused it would have added only a tittle of evidence to all that which was already available, that Vassall should have been suspected years and years earlier—or possibly I should say two tittles. They were in fact, one, that Vassall wore female clothing—and this he himself admitted in evidence before the Tribunal was true; and, secondly, that Vassall was known as "Auntie". To me, "Auntie" does not indicate a soubriquet for a homosexual. To me, it indicates a man who is rather an old woman, who perhaps has feminine tendencies, but not a "queer". The fact in the Report which we do know is that he was definitely known, at any rate by colleagues, as "Vera". This appears to me to be a much more significant fact than that he was supposed to have been known as "Auntie". However, it was held none the less that these sources should be revealed. The journalists refused to do so, were gaoled, and one of them is still in prison.
The question I should like to ask of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Conesford, who criticised the refusal to reveal sources is this. What does this position imply for journalists now and 773 in the future? Again and again—I am sure every noble Lord in this House must be aware of this—I (and this applies to all journalists) am told things off the record by politicians—including Ministers, by civil servants, police, private individuals; again and again, day after day. You ring them up for quotes, or for advice, or for guidance and what do they say?—" Look here old boy, don't quote me on this, don't mention my name, but let me fill you in off the record ", and they then proceed to be extremely helpful. This is a very important part of a journalist's collection of facts and background information.
What are we expected to do nowadays when a Member of Parliament or Cabinet Minister makes some proviso of that kind? In the light of the noble Lord's strictures, are we to say, "I refuse to talk on that basis"? Are we to say, "I cannot listen to you". Or are we to say, "Thank you very much; that is very useful material, and, in the event of a tribunal being set up on this subject, I am prepared to go to prison rather than reveal that it was you who told me"? That is the basis on which all journalism works, whether in contacts with Parliament, Civil Service, police and so on; and if any noble Lord can tell me what is the professional, honourable and moral way to behave under those circumstances I shall be exceedingly grateful to him. That is the position in which Mulholland and Foster found themselves. They refused to betray the confidences of their informants, and I believe that for this we should respect them. I deeply deplore the fact that the Tribunal rewarded honour with gaol and inefficiency with a pot of whitewash.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he not agree that sometimes these sources of information of journalists may be nothing more than figments of the journalist's own imagination? I am sure that that does happen sometimes.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I am going only upon my personal experience. If one is interviewed by a journalist it sometimes happens when 774 one tells him the facts that what is printed in the paper is the complete opposite of what one has said.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
I suggest to the noble Viscount that he might choose his journalists with more care.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, is the noble Viscount suggesting that Mr. Mulholland and Mr. Foster invented their sources? If that is so, that is a monstrous suggestion.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, we are getting out of order. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has just finished his speech, and I was looking forward to the next speech.
§ 6.15 p.m.
THE EARL OF DUNDONALD
My Lords, I am not going to say anything about journalism. Before I decided to speak to-day I remembered some remarks made in your Lordships' Chamber about a year ago by my noble friend Lord Swinton in connection with another matter concerning security. His remarks were to the effect that the less said about certain aspects of security the better, and what I am going to say to-day bears this consideration in mind. I hope that matters affecting the security of the State will never become a Party political matter. We all know that Ministers, Under-Ministers of the Government of the time, and Service officers in Embassies have to accept the staffs provided for them. Therefore, security must be treated as a matter above Party politics. Like others of your Lordships, I should like to pay tribute to the members of the Tribunal, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, for the thoroughness of their Report. I should also like to say how glad I am, as are others, to know that Lord Carrington, and in another place Mr. Galbraith, were completely exonerated by the Tribunal.
A great deal has been said to-day, and I am going to endeavour not to go over any ground which has already been covered. The first thing that struck me on reading the Report was how very difficult it must have been for the security service to run this man to earth and to 775 obtain all the conclusive evidence necessary to obtain a conviction. Personally, I should like to record my appreciation of the security services on this achievement. There are undoubtedly some people who will wonder how it was possible for this man to have spied on and off for about seven years, and some people have hinted that the security services might be partly to blame. In my view this is quite the wrong approach, and the root of the trouble is how a man like Vassall was ever allowed to be employed at all in the various positions which he held with access to secret information. When I was at SHAPE in Paris after the war, and later in the War Office, as a Serving Officer, one was vetted very thoroughly indeed if one was likely to handle highly classified information. As has been announced in the Tribunal Report, it would appear that Vassall when he went through the process that is now called positive vetting was allowed to produce as referees, presumably in regard to his private life, two ladies in substitution for two other people. I can assure your Lordships that two referees, however charming the ladies might be, would not have "washed" ten years ago so far as a Serving Officer with access to secret information was concerned.
We all appreciate that this is a delicate matter in peace-time, involving to some extent the liberty of the individual; but, after all, why object to being thoroughly vetted if you have nothing to hide? Now that Service Ministries and the Armed Forces are being pressed to release serving officers, N.C.O.s and men from headquarters to more active employment in the field and have them replaced by civilians, these civilians must be subject to the same security vetting, including what they do when the office shuts? We are dealing these days with modern and ruthless forms of obtaining State secrets, and surely security vetting must be effectively done in the first instance when that civilian starts his work, and not when he sees classified information, or, in the case of Vassall, when he had been spying for some years in Moscow, and had not been positively vetted, and it occurred to his seniors to have him positively vetted only when he came back to be employed in the Admiralty. Therefore, 776 in my view the responsibility must be primarily with the man's departmental head, coupled with the personnel department. It is quite wrong to imagine that the official security services can be expected to do this initial work, which one could classify simply under the heading of "elementary good housekeeping." It would be rather like imagining that the police can be expected to be effective in catching burglars if everyone left his windows open, or doors unlocked and did not take simple home security precautions.
There have been many quotations today from this Report, but to draw attention to the point I have been making in connection with early, good vetting, I should like, in conclusion, to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 27, on page 8, of the Report. It reads:The Civil Service system does not recognise that there is any functional distinction to be admitted in the grading of or the reward for its various posts according to the relative secrecy or non-secrecy of the material dealt with. The work to be done in either case is the same, although security may require the observance of special procedures in the handling of secret matter.I think that is perfectly clear, but there is no mention whatsoever of what happens when the office shuts. I should like also to read a further quotation from paragraph 83, on page 27, which is in connection with the question of whether civilian or service people should or should not serve in Embassies abroad. It says here:There is nothing intrinsically more reliable about a serviceman than a civil servant, but the field of selection would have been wider"—this refers to Vassall's posting to Moscow—as it would not be necessary to rely on volunteers, more is probably known about a serviceman's conduct outside ' office hours ', and he is subject to Service discipline.Now, my Lords, I will connect those two quotations with the report in to-day's Daily Telegraph of part of the Prime Minister's speech in another place in the debate yesterday. According to that report the Prime Minister said:We have decided it would be wiser that all subordinate staff of the Service attachés should in future be subject to Service discipline and recruited from the Services.In my opinion, that is entirely ducking the issue; because although it might be more satisfactory to have a serviceman 777 serving under the Military Attaché or the Air Attaché in Moscow, what is the advantage of that if one has, shall we say, a civilian defector within our Embassy proper?
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, there is a factual point which I should like to raise at this juncture. I am not quite clear whether or not it comes within the four corners of the Motion. It is a question of fact, and I happen to have some experience of this fact, which is the reason I raise it. In the Report emphasis is laid, and quite rightly laid, on the nefarious part which was played by a Russian among the staff of Her Majesty's Embassy in Moscow. My question is: how far members of the country in which an Embassy works are, in fact, employed in that Embassy? I raise the question more readily, because I had a somewhat painful experience of this sort of thing a very long time ago.
The Russian Embassy was alongside us, and it was raided. In the raid they found a large number of documents—basketsful—including copies of my own despatches home, which were then brought over and delivered to me and placed on my table. That brought home very vividly what can happen, and what in fact does happen. The Chancery servant was a Chinese, and when things were manifolded it was very simple to slip a copy aside. He acted with the best possible motives. He did not take it to the Russians; he gave it to the Nationalist Party, who were in touch with the Russians, and the Russians got it. In any case, the fact remained that I had a basketful, roughly, of my own despatches home placed on my table, captured from the archives of the Russian Embassy. I mention that experience only because it shows how these things can be used.
It was brought to my mind by the references, in this Report of the Vassall affair, to the nefarious part which was played by this Russian (whose name I have forgotten) among the members of the staff and so on. I simply ask the question—I do not know whether the Leader of the House will be able to answer it: to what extent is there a rule governing the employment by Her Majesty's Missions abroad of nationals of that country as subordinate members 778 or otherwise of their staff? It is a very material point, I may say, because, of course, these people are used exactly as the unfortunate Chinese was used in my case a long time ago. He was handed over to his own people and received very short shrift. That was the end of him. But I remember the incident very well, and that is why I have risen to raise this question, because I have practical experience of how these things can work.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should like to make three points very shortly, having listened to this debate. I believe that they have a certain amount of value in connection with this problem, and I am really speaking in support of what my noble friend Lord Walston was saying about the complacency of the Report. It does rather reflect the kind of slackish conduct which is evident, both in the Foreign Office and in the Admiralty, and is to a large extent responsible for the trouble which the country got into as a result of Vassall's treason. There is the same slack feeling about this very Report. Instead of meting out real censure to this slackness, there is a good deal of "whitewash".
My noble friend Lord Walston gave a very good example of this sort of thing, and I had an ever worse experience when calling upon the British Minister in a country behind the Iron Curtain. The Minister was not there, but the man in charge of the Embassy was a very charming man. As I am sure others of your Lordships do, I make a point of calling at the Embassy when I am abroad, if it is practicable. The man who was in charge took me and the friend who was with me, who was a political candidate in another place, to a restaurant for dinner. He was very charming, and he then gave us an appreciation of the general position in the country, in which there was a good deal of important information, making quite clear the sources from which he was getting this information. We kicked him under the table, and said, "Surely, in a country like this it is not safe to talk in this way". He said, "Oh! I have dined here for years. The restaurant is perfectly safe. You need not worry about it." Obviously, the Communists having taken control in that country, there was a very good chance that not far away there was a microphone. 779 It would have been perfectly easy, if that were so, for the authorities of that country to identify the sources of this man's information. That would seem to me to be a very slack way of handling the affairs of the Embassy.
When I got back to London the first thing I did was to go to the Foreign Office, to indicate what I thought of this state of affairs and to ask whether it would be possible to stiffen up the arrangements, because this sort of thing—as I am sure your Lordships will agree—ought not to be allowed to happen. But I could not get any more sympathy at the Foreign Office than my noble Friend Lord Walston was able to get. They treated this as a matter of no particular importance, which it seems to me it obviously was; I think your Lordships will agree.
The next point is in respect of this homosexuality vetting by the Security Service. In paragraph 24, at the top of page 8, the Report says that information of this kind is not in general "collected and recorded by the Security Service." That is an extraordinary statement. I hope that that is still not the case, and I wish that the Tribunal had indicated that they thought this was not a satisfactory situation.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Lord should look at the bottom of page 48. There are two types of vetting. If the noble Lord looks at the bottom of page 48, I think he will see that homosexual tendencies certainly do raise a presumption that anyone like that is unfit to occupy a "positive vetting" post.
§ LORD CHORLEY
That is true, but the point is that you have to take steps to discover whether they have these tendencies. During the war this certainly was done, because I was working in the Home Office, under my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and for a time in a section where we had the security reports, and I know that it was one of the matters to which they paid very great attention. The fact that in the interval they seem to have given it up indicates to me once more the general feeling of slackness which seems to have come over this very important branch of the work of the community.
Again, it is suggested (I cannot put i my finger on the exact paragraph) that in a 780 Department these top-security documents are bound, in effect, to pass round, and that as a matter of practical politics it is almost impossible to prevent somebody like Vassall from taking them out or the office, getting them photographed and passing them on. In the Home Office, at any rate at that time, the very top-security documents were in the charge of a civil servant in the administrative class who was personally responsible for them, and who was not allowed to let anybody else have them except during the times he was on leave, at which times another man was specifically put in his place and was given the same responsibility in regard to these documents.
One of the difficulties is that so many documents are put into the top-secret class that people in the offices naturally become rather slack about them. What ought to be done, I am sure, is that there should be a category of documents classed "top secret" composed only of those which are genuinely so; and an officer high up in the Service ought to be made personally responsible for them. They should not be allowed to be taken up and down the country: they ought to remain there, in a security safe in the office, where only the man responsible for them can see them—except, of course, when the Minister or somebody very "high-up" requires them for the purpose of his work. And in that case the man who has charge of them should be there all the time, so to speak, so that he knows exactly what is happening to them and can keep track of them. These three points, which I am afraid I have made very rapidly, seem to me to be of considerable importance in connection with the problem with which the Tribunal were concerned.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, in winding up the debate from this side of the House, I should like first to say that it is going to be difficult for me to add anything to the many statements that have been made by the speakers who have preceded me. Nevertheless, I would not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that this debate has not been worth while. Even though we had a similar debate in another place yesterday, I think there have been many worthwhile contributions from noble Lords during the day which will have fully justified our debate here. Here we are much freer than in another 781 place to express personal views; and one has only to have heard the speeches of, for instance, my noble friend Lord Walston and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, to realise that these were speeches which probably might not have been made in another place.
I should like to begin, as the noble and learned. Lord Chancellor did, by congratulating and thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, and his Committee for the excellent Report they have produced. That is not to say, of course, that the Report is not open to criticism, and in due course I shall have some comments to make on one or two things. But, by and large, with one exception, they have adduced the facts. It is open to any of us to question the conclusions they have come to upon those facts, and that is exactly what a number of noble Lords have done. May I also—and I do not apologise, as my noble friend Lord Longford did—congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on having been completely exonerated by this Report?
§ LORD SILKIN
It gave me very great pleasure indeed. He may remember that I forecast that that would be the case, but it was a great satisfaction to me that that should have been clearly brought out in the Report. Then, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He must have passed through some very anxious times while the Report was under consideration, and it must be a tremendous satisfaction to him, as a parent, to feel that his son has been completely exonerated.
§ LORD SILKIN
There was some question as to the wisdom of the attitude of Mr. Galbraith to a subordinate person in his Department. It is an open question, and one can have two views about it. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth takes, and always has taken, a very strong view about the relations which should exist between a Minister, and an official. I remember many years ago, when we first obtained a majority on the London County Council—it was in 1934, I think—and the noble Lord was the "Prime Minister", the "Leader of the House", and had to appoint chairmen of committees, he assembled all the chairmen and gave them a talk very much on the 782 lines of what he said this afternoon as to the way in which they should comport themselves in regard to the officers of the London County Council. I know he has never deviated from that point of view; and I think, on the whole, it is right. It is a question of degree. It is difficult, when you are seeing a person daily and are on intimate terms with him in your daily work, to take a "stand-offish" attitude towards him; but, broadly speaking, I fully appreciate what my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth has said about this. I do not want to reopen the argument between the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and my noble friend, but my attention has been drawn to a little discussion that took place some months ago, and I believe the noble and learned Viscount then took a rather more sympathetic view than he appeared to do to-day.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
No, my Lords; I have always said the same thing. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in thinking, as distinct from quite a number of other authorities on the subject, that the relationship with officials should have a distinct element of aloofness. I have never differed from him on that point. But I also agree with the Tribunal in saying that there was really no deviation from that on the part of Mr. Galbraith. Therefore, the criticisms of Mr. Galbraith—and I quote what I said to the noble Lord on the previous occasion—were that there was an error of judgment on his part.
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not want to pursue it, because I do not wish in the slightest degree to appear to be critical of Mr. Galbraith. I have expressed my sincere gratitude that he has been completely exonerated, and I am prepared to leave it at that.
Now I should like to associate myself very much with what my noble friend Lord Longford said about Mr. Pennells. I find it extremely difficult to follow the reasoning of the Tribunal. Here is a man whom they have never seen, who is dead, and about whom they could hear only at secondhand. And yet they presume to say that he is a painstaking, good officer, but lacking in imagination. How on earth can they say that he was lacking in imagination without having seen him? To me, it indicates a certain amount of slackness. Moreover, I feel 783 that they were a little unfair in blaming Mr. Pennells for a system which he found in existence and in assuming that it was his duty to recognise that that system was not working efficiently, and to take steps to have it altered. This was the system which was in fact adopted and accepted, and I doubt whether, except as a matter of hindsight, Mr. Pennells could have been expected to take action to urge that the system under which junior officers were appointed was inadequate for the purpose. If it was inadequate, it was not for Mr. Pennells to take the entire blame. The Foreign Office, the Admiralty, and everyone else should be blamed for having a system which is inadequate. Why the whole of the responsibility should have been fixed on the late Mr. Pennells seems to me a complete mystery.
A good deal has been said about the proceedings at the Embassy and the fact that the security at the Embassy was rather loose, and I find myself in complete agreement with what has been said on this subject. The Report suggests—and here I am in some difficulty—that after a few months Vassall was compromised in a situation where he was blackmailed into becoming a tool of the Soviet Foreign Office. How does the Tribunal know this except from the evidence of Vassall himself? Here I am again in some difficulty because we do not know what secret information the Tribunal had; nor have we the evidence that was presented to them. On the face of it, the only evidence they could have had of the blackmail of Vassall was his own evidence—which it is quite natural he would put forward as an excuse for what he had done. But in many other parts of the Report they do not accept Vassall's evidence as reliable. Why do they think his evidence is more reliable on this particular aspect?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, this is set out in the Report on page 11, if the noble Lord will look.
§ LORD SILKIN
I have seen the Report. Does it really show why they think that? Does it indicate more than that they got this information from Vassall himself?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It says quite fairly that it was partly fact and partly conjecture, but a little more than that… it is known of Mikhailski that he was implicated in more than one other attempted compromise of Embassy staff in connection with blackmarket operations, that he was a close friend of a diplomat in another Embassy, a friend of Vassall, who is reported to have been sent home from Moscow because of his homosexual leanings, and that he was concerned in yet another case of homosexual compromise affecting a third Embassy.It is clear that, whatever the evidence was from Vassall, they had a certain amount of corroboration of what Vassall told them.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I am aware of all that, but it is still conjecture. They may have drawn all these conjectures together and come to a conclusion. I was going to suggest that it is also possible that he was tempted by payment. It is known that he received payment for his services. It is as probable that he was being bribed by the Soviets as that he was brought into a compromising position.
That leads me to the question of Vassall's financial position. At the time when he was first appointed to the job in the Soviet Union he was earning probably about £600 a year. At the time he was arrested, many years later, his salary was stated to be £900. I think it would have been wise of those who appointed him to have some information about his means. A lot of what has been said in the Press about his high standard of living is beside the point, because, in the evidence, he did not appear to have gone into his Dolphin Square flat until long after he had become compromised. In fact, for several years after he returned to this country he was living with his parents in apparently modest style, and there was nothing to indicate that he was living extravagantly at all at that time. Later he went to Dolphin Square. But there ought to have been some way of ascertaining something about his financial position, both at the time of his appointment and also at the time when he was vetted on his return.
There is one other factor in the Report which has been dealt with by a considerable number of speakers and I do not want to press the point beyond saying that it is, to me, quite incomprehensible that the Report should have come to the conclusion, or have given the impression, 785 that all that happened in Moscow was inevitable and there was no one to blame. When one reads the Summary of Findings one sees, over and over, again:There was no neglect by senior members of The Embassy of a proper attention to the comfort and welfare…"; "No criticism can be made of the fact…"; "No improper influence was exercised…".All the way through there seems to be an assumption that this sort of thing was almost inevitable and no one was to blame.
Indeed, the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack in his opening remarks said that because something went wrong it is not correct to say that something must be wrong with the organisation. He said that whenever a spy is caught it must not be assumed that something has gone wrong. Nor, I suggest, must it be assumed that it was all right either. When this had been going on for seven years, I think there must be an assumption that something had gone wrong, and had been going wrong during the whole of that period. Noble Lords who have spoken have pointed out what they think had gone wrong in various respects and I do not want to repeat what has been said. I do not, of course, complain that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack took credit for the fact that, once it was suspected that something had gone wrong, the Department acted with great speed and ability in eventually tracking down who was to blame. There, I agree, every credit is due to them; but I think the Report does go wrong in rather giving colour to the idea that it was possible for a spy to remain undetected for seven years and that there is nothing particularly wrong with the vetting or the organisation. I hope that, in spite of the Report, active steps will be taken to provide greater security than has existed hitherto.
There are two other things I want to say—one about the Press and the other about the Tribunal. Again, I agree with most of what has been said about the Press. I find that the conduct of the Press over this matter has been shocking. They have gone out for sensations and exaggeration. They have issued stories with little or no foundation. They have even invented stories. They have guessed.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I must interrupt the noble Lord. He has no right to say that the Press have invented. The onus of proof rests on him.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, if the noble Earl has plenty of time, I am quite prepared to corroborate what I am saying from the Report itself. The Report makes it quite clear that a great many of the stories have no foundation whatever—none at all—that others at best were merely guesswork, that what the Press said was "inference", but inference from very little.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lards, I must again intervene. There is a whole difference between inference and invention. This is very important. There have been two men in prison.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, if the noble Earl wants it that way, by all means. There is very little difference between inference and invention. The slight difference is that you can infer from very little material and you invent from nothing.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I would ask the noble Lord to pay attention to the result of these inferences outside this House, particularly with regard to the two reporters who find themselves in prison.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I am sorry if I have hurt the noble Earl, but that is the impression I have gained from the whole history of this affair. The only credit that the noble Earl can take from this is that it may be that the Press, by maligning the character of certain individuals, forced this Inquiry, which has turned out to be a good thing. Of course, the more they malign and the more they invent, the more they force Inquiries. But if that is the way in which an Inquiry is forced, I am very sorry for the state of affairs in this country. I hope we can do better than that.
As to the Tribunal, none of us would pretend that the Tribunal under which 787 this Inquiry took place was incapable of improvement, but, in my view, it is the best that exists. I hope the Government will take note of the suggestion made by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place and have a Committee to look into the question of the procedure of these Tribunals, to see whether it cannot be improved. If they did that, they would really be taking note of some of the doubts which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself expressed—the question of adequate notice to people who come before the Tribunal and who might turn out to be charged with serious offences or the publication of charges which might ultimately turn out to be unfounded. These are two aspects of these inquiries which are a little disturbing.
I suggest that the Government might be well advised to go into the question of whether the procedure under the Tribunal of Inquiries Act could not be improved in these respects. But, having said that, I must say that in my view this is the best form of inquiry in this kind of case that was possible. I agree with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that neither a Select Committee of the House, nor a judicial inquiry in the courts, which was discussed by my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, would be so satisfactory in this case as a Tribunal of Inquiry. But I feel that it is capable of improvement and hope that the Government will not hesitate to look into this and see whether, in the two respects that I mention and others which the noble and learned Lord himself referred to, they could not make some improvement. Of course, this is not to say that this is an appropriate Tribunal for all types of cases. There was recently an inquiry where I think it was quite unsuitable. We were using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It may be that, in that kind of case, we ought to devise another form of inquiry. The whole question is one which might well be looked into once more.
I hope that the minor criticisms that have been made of the Report—and I feel that they are on the whole minor criticisms, because the facts are there for everyone to judge for himself—will not be regarded as ungracious to those who have given so much of themselves in 788 producing this Report. We are all, we hope, intelligent people, who read these Reports, form our own judgments and draw our own inferences, but we cannot be expected to agree with every word of the Tribunal and with every conclusion at which they arrive. Nevertheless, we are very grateful to them for the trouble they have taken. If the result of all this is that the security of this country will be further looked into and greatly advanced, then I think the whole matter will have had a happy conclusion.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I think that the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was a very fair-minded analysis, from his own point of view, of the matter of the Report. I certainly do not think that the criticisms which he offered of the Tribunal and its Report were in any way, as he put it, ungracious. If we are to make a fair judgment of this Report, I think that it is necessary to start by remembering that we are looking at what in effect is the judgment of a quasi-judicial Tribunal, based on oral evidence, which was examined and cross-examined, none of which accompanies the Report and much of which was heard in camera.
I think that many of the criticisms of the Report which we have heard in the course of debate have failed to take this circumstance into account. I think that there is nothing quite so difficult as to assess findings of fact, among other things, by a Tribunal which has heard oral evidence from witnesses under cross-examination and from whose demeanour much may be inferred, simply by a criticism of the written record of evidence, and in this case we have not had even that. We have simply had the ratiocination in the Report. I shall come back to this circumstance a little later.
In taking up what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about the form of the judgment, I would begin by reminding the House that, when some time ago moved in the House to set up the Tribunal, I said candidly that I did so with great reluctance. I warned the House that what we were doing was to institute a formidable engine of inquisition, and said candidly that, although I remembered in my professional and political life a large number of these Tribunals, I never remembered one in which there had not been criticism afterwards of the 789 onerous kind of imposition which this might bring upon the individual who came before the Tribunal, sometimes exposing him to serous attack, often involving him in heavy legal costs and in one way or another giving him much anxiety, and sometimes great pain, when all the time it might subsequently turn out that he was entirely innocent.
Of course, I agree that if the procedure before the Tribunal can be in any way improved this ought to be done. But I am bound to tell the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, as I think I told the House at the time when I moved the institution of the Tribunal, that most of the defects are inherent in the instrument itself, and that really the public must learn, sooner or later, at the time when it is asking for an inquiry of this kind, that it is invoking a very serious imposition on human freedom and rights; and it is no good after the inquiry has taken place to blame it for following the laws of its being, which are to search out the facts, often at great pain to individuals concerned.
Now that we know the facts, I do not believe there is a single Member of your Lordships' House who would not secretly or openly have preferred the original suggestion of the Government, that a committee of civil servants under Sir Charles Cunningham be set up to look into security would have been better. It would have had no powers of subpœna; no journalist would have been in gaol if that suggestion had been adopted; and all the criticisms which have been levelled in one way or another at the security arrangements would have been looked into with every bit as much expertise, knowledge and experience. But, of course, once the honour of individuals was involved, and especially the honour of Ministers—and, really, quite lamentable statements were made about them, both in another place and in the public Press—then it became necessary to involve this engine of Government, an inquiry. I must say, although I sympathise with every word the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, and although would welcome any form of inquiry my colleagues would think it right to institute, that I feel quite certain that, basically speaking, the disadvantages are in the nature of the instrument itself, which should be resorted to only when it is absolutely necessary to do it.
790 I move from that to the Report. I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, my noble friend Lord Dundonald, and others, who have expressed the thanks of Parliament to the members of this Tribunal for the work which they have done, and for what seems to me to be an unusually well written, lucid and cogent public document. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I was not sure whether he was referring to the members of the Tribunal or of the security service when he made the reference to "armchairs of the Athenæum" and the necessity for people who know and people who do not trust anybody. But I think we must remember that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, is an expert on this subject. Of his colleagues, Sir Patrick Barry has both military and security experience and is, in fact, one of the most experienced criminal Judges on the Bench; and Sir Milner Holland is also a lawyer who has sat upon a Tribunal before. I think it is quite unfair to indicate that they were not in every way suited to search out the facts in a matter of this kind, with the special knowledge of security, which is a professional subject, which was required in relation to the facts.
I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rea, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for what I thought was a generous congratulation extended to my two colleagues, my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and my honourable friend Mr. Galbraith, on what I consider to be their complete vindication in the ordeal to which they were subjected. In both cases they emerged with their honour completely untarnished. In the case of my noble friend the First Lord, the Committee found that he hadfairly discharged his Ministerial responsibility for security in the Admiralty in the actions he has taken".And they did so only after investigating the peculiar difficulties and responsibilities of a Minister of a Service Department with security obligations to discharge. I must be forgiven if I express some feeling of resentment, both at the groundless charges originally made and subsequently withdrawn, and at what seemed to me the extraordinary conduct of the B.B.C. in permitting a subsequent scurrilous attack upon him, despite the 791 express finding of the Tribunal that he was without blame of any kind.
In the case of Mr. Galbraith, he was accused in another place ofa degree of Ministerial responsibility which goes far beyond the ordinary business of a Minister in charge.This was on the basis of letters which have since been published, and of these letters the Tribunal said:This correspondence failed to convey to us any untoward or exceptional significance whatever.I think it would have done more credit to the right honourable gentleman in another place who made that allegation had he apologised to my honourable friend publicly for the way in which he had been treated.
My Lords, I move only from my two colleagues in this respect with one reflection. "Minister" is only the Latin for "servant"; and we are the servants of the public. But we are nothing less; and servants, it may be said, are entitled to fair and generous treatment from their employers. I must say that if any employer had treated his servants as my two colleagues have been treated in this case, he would have been rightly pilloried as unfit to employ labour of any kind. Indeed, he would be unable to get decent servants to work for him. I solemnly warn the public that if they go on treating public servants of either political Party as my two colleagues have been treated, they will not find decent people willing to work for them, and they will be served by a generation of rascals or toadies.
This brings me to the Press. I discerned in the House, I think, a reasonable and proper reluctance to discuss the Press, because, if I may be allowed to say so, I hope that one thing which will emerge from this Tribunal is that we should take this opportunity of wiping the slate clean of the silly atmosphere of mutual recrimination and hostility which has for some time been beginning to bedevil the relationship between Parliament and the Press. Surely, the Press and Parliament both have public functions to perform in the body politic, and neither can perform its functions properly unless it is in due and reasonable relationship with the other. Each has on occasion the duty and privilege of criticising the other; but 792 I can see great danger to both, and, may I say, still more important, damage to democratic government, if we cannot do it objectively, without vindictiveness and without malice. Personally, I must say that I thought my noble friend Lord Arran's interposition, to which we have just listened, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when he delivered a criticism of the Press, was very injudicious indeed; because so far we have, in fact, I think almost by mutual consent, agreed to defer a consideration of that aspect of the matter to an occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, has a Motion on the subject.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I interrupt immediately? The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said that I was injudicious to interrupt. Maybe I was. But the accusation was one of invention, and no member of any profession—the noble Viscount himself belongs to the legal profession—can tolerate that without some protest.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The question is whether the protest is judicious or injudicious, and I was venturing to characterise my noble friend's interruption as injudicious. Since he challenges me—and I do not say these things without some consideration—I will not quote any words by me but I will quote some words of the noble, Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, who is not a political colleague of my own, and who published in the New Statesman an article on the Tribunal. He said:This being said, it is necessary also to say that the Press as a whole comes very badly out of the Report…Yet the fact remains that the most serious—and certainly the most sensational—stories the Tribunal found it necessary to investigate in detail are shown to have been in almost every instance without solid foundation. Nor was exaggeration, distortion and, in several instances, sheer invention going far beyond reasonable speculation confined to what is usually called the popular Press.Then he goes on, in the column and a half, to give numerous instances of those cases.
I speak without any feeling of hostility to the Press at all, but it is impossible to read this Report without realising that those words of the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams—who is not the only responsible newspaper man to write in that fashion, and which he justifies up to 793 the hilt in about two columns of newsprint—are very restrained and moderate, and that to complain that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, should have used the word "invention" in the context I can only describe as injudicious. I think the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, was well justified in saying that the remedy must be, not, I would say, that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, of some kind of tribunal to investigate the Press or to impose new censorship whereby they have to publish the dull truth after the lurid invention has been complained of, but seriously to look at the standards which this Report shows some newspapers—and not only the popular newspapers—to have fallen into in the course of this particular episode. I will not say any more on that aspect, and I would not have said even that, had it not been for the fact that my noble friend interposed, as I think ill-advisedly.
This brings me to the case of the two journalists. There again, I must say I thought that both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, were a little injudicious in their handling of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, because my noble friend suggested that there might not have been any sources at all to refuse to disclose. Far be it from me to go as far as that. But if the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, will look in Hansard to-morrow at what he said, I think he will feel, as I did, that before he treated my noble friend quite so severely he should have remembered that at page 67 of the Report there is printed in extenso a long story about Mr. Galbraith by one of the two newspapermen in question, Mr. Mulholland, of a most circumstantial and detailed kind. That story the Tribunal described as follows:It is, we find, in all essentials, a piece of fiction.Then they go on, after examining that, and end their conclusion:…we were far from satisfied that he had ever obtained any significant information at all from the informants he spoke of, even to the limited extent to which he deposed.
§ LORD KILBRACKEN
What I said in reply to the intervention of the noble Viscount was that I should be extremely grateful if he could give me the sources of the information for his allegation. He did not do so, and the noble 794 Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has done, for which I am grateful.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My noble friend must have read the Report and have felt that this passage in it justified the suggestion he was making. I must say—I shall come in a moment to the question of conscience—that it is rather a funny conscience that goes to prison rather than reveal a source and, at the same time, apparently, feels no shame in inventing (because that is the verb of the noun "fiction") a long and circumstantial story, defamatory of a Minister of the Crown. I think we are entitled to say these things without passion, but Without being unduly inhibited.
Moreover, I did not think the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, had got the point at all about what was withheld. I shall examine shortly the question as to how far anybody ought to have guessed that Mr. Vassall was a practising homosexual while employed in the Admiralty. The noble Lord felt that it was a fairly obvious fact, and that Mr. Mulholland's sources of information would have revealed at best one or two tittles to fill a picture which was already sufficiency adequately detailed. But the point was not that Mr. Mulholland's story, in respect of which he came into conflict with the authorities, was that the Admiralty ought to have guessed, or that the Foreign Office ought to have guessed, or that the Embassy ought to have guessed, but that throughout Vassall's life in the Admiralty his career was fostered, sponsored and furthered by high officials, of whom the inference was that they were not only aware that he was a homosexual but were influenced by that fact because it was inferred that they were homosexuals themselves. To say that a man in those circumstances would have added nothing if he had enabled the Tribunal to investigate the truth of that story is really not to understand what judicial Tribunals are about, or what this investigation was about, or the difference between an allegation of negligence and an allegation of corruption of the vilest kind.
Now I come to the question of principle. Nobody could be more sorry than I am that these two young men came 795 into conflict with authority, and I suspect that they did so because they had had bad advice from people who ought to have known better and advised them better. Therefore, do not think for a moment that I wish to say a disrespectful word of their stand on what they had been advised by others was a standard principle. I want to remind the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who spoke with some heat at the end of his speech, that they were not rewarded, as he put it, by the Tribunal with gaol for conscience. What sent them to prison was not the Government, not the Tribunal, but the courts, after a report had been made by the Tribunal to the courts to ascertain what the appropriate penalty was. Indeed, one of the noble Lords who sits on the Cross-Benches was intimately concerned with the decision. This was not a Tribunal savagely punishing two men for contempt of itself. It was not the Government, who had nothing to do with it. It was the courts of law enforcing a rule of law in circumstances in which they, at any rate, thought it was both appropriate and necessary to do so. I am sorry for the advice these men have received. Several noble Lords (and I think my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford was among the most notable) have explained—and so has my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack—why it is that the question of principle cannot be accepted, and why the advice given to these young men was bad advice.
We, all of us, receive confidences from time to time, I suppose nobody more so than a member of my own profession, the Bar, unless he happens also to be a Cabinet Minister. Most of us would defend those confidences in one way or another with our honour or, it may be, even our liberty on occasions. But the question is: what is the occasion and on what principles ought one to act? Of course, the legal profession, as I think my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack reminded us, has a legal privilege which belongs to the client and not to counsel or the solicitor. But I happened to notice even the other day that this is not an unqualified privilege, for I saw in a law report in The Times a case of a solicitor—and I happened on this because he is a personal friend of mine—whose client had confided in him that she was going to murder the third party 796 in the litigation. So seriously did my friend take this, according to The Times, that he thought it was right to tell the other side. No doubt it was said to him in confidence, because the client sued him for breach of professional duty; but I am happy to say to the noble and learned Lords I see on the Cross Benches that justice was done and my friend was acquitted. Apart from the legal privilege of the law there are no professions which have an absolute legal privilege. Even the priest has none. But it is fair to say, I think, that after three hundred years of Protestant rule no priest has ever gone Ito prison for not violating the secrets of the confessional.
Which brings us up against the next point in the argument that the courts must be very tender to conscience, and ought to be very tender to conscience when they find themselves up against it. Of course, the difference between the priest, the banker, and the lawyer and the newspaperman is that the priest receives the confessional in circumstances in which he will never publish it to anybody; and so, in the main, is it with the banker and the lawyer. The newspaper receives it, in fact, for publication to the world, and therefore the circumstances are not exactly the same. In fact, the object of the Tribunal and the object of the Press is exactly the same; it is to publish the truth about what has happened. This is the duty of the Press in ordinary circumstances and it is the duty of the Tribunal in the particular circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, is, I think, mistaken about the law of libel. He said that the Press never had to reveal their sources in libel actions. This is, in fact, not correct, if he will forgive me for saying so. If ever the Press relied upon the defence of fair comment, which is one of their favourite defences in libel actions, until very recently (when it was abolished out of deference to the rule) they were regularly interrogated, even before action, about the sources upon which they relied. This was because, as must be obvious to the noble Lord if he thinks about it, if you are going to say that you honestly entertained an opinion about something—and of course, that is the essence of the defence of fair comment or privilege—you must indicate the facts upon which you relied to have that opinion. Otherwise the courts may not believe that you 797 entertain the opinion at all. Although I think the Press are no longer interrogated before trial about this issue, it is manifest that you cannot put forward the defence of fair comment in defamation, which depends upon your honest belief in the opinion which you have stated, or in the facts upon which you have based your opinion, without revealing your sources.
I wonder whether the noble Lord remembers, as I do, poignantly, and as I think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, will also remember, the case of Mr. Garry Allighan in the House of Commons a few years ago. This is a totally novel doctrine on the part of the Press. They have never put it before, until somebody high up, no doubt, in the newspaper world advised these poor young men that they were fighting for a principle which the Press had always believed in.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I am sorry, but I must interrupt; the noble Viscount is suggesting that these two men were advised by somebody in the newspapers concerned. I can assure the noble Viscount, with all solemnity, that any advice they took was the advice of their own conscience and of their legal advisers. I must make this point absolutely crystal clear.
I do not believe that they were so silly as that. Anybody who is going to take the risk of his own liberty for the sake of his conscience will talk the matter over with influential and experienced friends, especially if they are older than himself and know more about the subject; and I have no doubt whatever that these young men did so.
I was coming on to the interesting case of Mr. Garry Allighan. It will be remembered that in the 1945 Parliament it fell to me to bring to the attention of another place a breach of privilege, namely, that in certain newspapers Mr. Garry Allighan, who was then the Member for Gravesend, had said that Members of Parliament took bribes, an allegation which I think I rightly resented. In due course a Committee of Privileges was set up to investigate the facts, and in the course of their investigations they discovered two reports in two London papers which seemed to betray 798 an uncanny knowledge of what was going on upstairs in a Labour Party meeting.
They summoned the two editors before them and asked the source of these reports. The two editors said that these sources were very highly confidential and they would not reveal them, whereupon they were told that they had to reveal them. And, quite rightly, of course, and I think without more than a momentary passing criticism from the public, in each case the editors revealed the source. And rightly, because, of course, they were asked by a perfectly properly constituted body, namely a Privilege Committee of the House of Commons, which had authority to ask them to do so; and in one case the source was Mr. Garry Allighan himself, who had been paid thirty pounds a week for betraying his Party's secrets. In due course he was expelled from the House of Commons because the editor to whom he had done it had revealed the source. The other source was Mr. Evelyn Walkden, who died in disgrace later on because of this fact. He had been paid £5 a week by another paper. It really is nonsense, in the light of recent events like this, to try to set up a doctrine that newspapermen never reveal their sources. And it is the greatest tragedy, of course, that two excellent young men should have been so misled as to take this view of their duty.
Turning, therefore, from that aspect of the matter, I now come to the question of security and I shall deal first with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and then I shall deal in detail with some of the general issues raised by the Report. My Lords, I accept, of course, the criticism made by the Tribunal that the late official in the Admiralty failed adequately to take heed of the Foreign Office warning. While I respect the feelings of his relatives, and while I admire the motives of chivalry which moved the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to rush to his support, I do not feel myself that it can be said that the distinguished and impartial members of the Tribunal picked on him in any way. Indeed, had he been alive I should have felt confident that it would be noble Lords opposite who would be trying to make the points which the Tribunal made had they not already done so. The Tribunal found him guilty of an error of judgment. 799 That is not, to my mind, a censure of which his relatives need feel deeply ashamed after a long life devoted to public service. I should like to think that I have never been guilty of an error of judgment myself, and that if somebody after my death says I was guilty at some time of an error of judgment my descendants will loyally jump to my defence, as loyally as the daughter and family of the late Mr. Pennells.
But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, that this Tribunal was there to find out the facts, and that it had to say what it did say if that was its genuine opinion. It is simply not true that Mr. Pennells was the only man named for censure. The page of the Report escapes me at the moment, but my noble friend Lord Conesford reminded us that on one occasion in the case of the much later vetting, Mr. Sherwood, Mr. James, Mr. White and Mr. Cardo, all in a single paragraph, were named as being guilty of an error of judgment. The only difference, I think, was that in the Summary the word "remiss" was added; but I do not think we ought to be pedantic about that.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, when the noble Viscount says something is not true, he means perhaps that something I said was not true. I did not say that no individuals were criticised in the Report; I said, no individuals were criticised by name in the Summary.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
It is true. With all his great Office, the noble Viscount hardly has the right to say truth may be or not be as he decrees.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Earl interrupted before I completed the sentence. I was going to say this may or may not be true, but the Report did, in fact, lay before the reader, in a fairly objective way, what had happened in both cases. It may be that it thought, and it may be it was true, that the failure by a responsible official to take adequate notice of a serious warning with regard to the dangers that personnel would be subjected to in the Moscow Embassy was more serious than the failure of the other responsible officials to make inquiries of Captain Bennett.
800 This is obviously a matter of opinion and a matter of debate. But I think it has been exaggerated out of all proportion to its real significance either to the reputation of the late Mr. Pennells or to its importance in the Report of the Tribunal as a whole.
I accept the criticism of the staff in the Moscow Embassy for not following up the warning of Miss Wynne about Mikhailski's activities. I also accept what my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford said about the continuance of Mikhailski in the Embassy after a certain date. I think I accept some part of what my noble friend Lord Dundonald said about positive vetting. But I cannot for a moment accept words attached to the authors of the Report like, "complacent" or "whitewash" These defects are all defects which the Report lays bare. They are all defects to which we can attach our own epithets. Personally, I am glad that in no case the Report attached very many or very severe epithets.
With regard to the particular failure to follow up the warning about Vassall, I think it is pretty clear that nobody was named. The condemnation of it was a fairly strong one, since the Tribunal say:Looking hack it is not easy for us to account for the inaction over this minute".But I think what had clearly happened is found at the bottom of paragraph 146 and the top of paragraph 147. It is pretty clear that nothing happened in one way or another because of the note appearing on the document. "H.M.M." (Her Majesty's Minister) "has informed H.E." (meaning the Ambassador). What in fact happened, the next stage of the history of action taken on this minute, is obscure. Mr. Parrott the then H.M.M. satisfied the Tribunal that he had no recollection of ever seeing or speaking to the Ambassador about it. In other words, there was a conflict of evidence about the possibility which the Tribunal were not able to resolve, and in those circumstances it would have been difficult to allocate the blame correctly. I agree it was a serious breach of security. It was nothing wrong with the regulations or the security service but it was, I think, a serious breach of security: and I think the Tribunal said so.
801 I think that otherwise the Tribunal were right to be extremely cautious in their criticism, and certainly I should have thought that a number of criticisms put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, were without any foundation at all. For instance, he claimed that when Vassall was employed at the Admiralty it was known that he was living at a rate in excess of £700 a year. The noble Lord is mistaken. At the time when Vassall was appointed, and for a very long time after he became a spy, Vassal was living modestly with his parents, showing no signs of expenditure at all. Then the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, went on to say that Vassall was a member of the Bath Club—I am not sure whether that in itself gives rise to suspicion. The inference was, I suppose, that a man who belongs to the Bath Club will not be able to pay his subscription if he is earning only £700 a year, or whatever it is. But he was a member of the Bath Club years before he became a spy. I think, therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, made a number of criticisms which really cannot be justified at all.
Nor can I accept for a moment that because he was (to use the noble Lord's phrase) not particularly bright, he should not have been handling top-secret documents. The noble Lord's doctrine appears to me to be that stupid or clerical civil servants are necessarily suspect as traitors. I do not accept this doctrine for a moment.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
That is a gross and malicious misrepresentation. I said nothing to the effect that a clerical civil servant was necessarily a traitor, nothing whatsoever. I ask the noble Viscount to withdraw that observation.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
What the noble Lord said was that he should not be allowed to handle top-secret documents. That, I do not agree with at all. Presumably, in this context the noble Lord meant because he is a potential security risk. I do not see that I have offended in any way. I reject this doctrine altogether. The fact is, as anyone who has to handle top-secret documents knows, they have to be typed; they have to be duplicated; they have to be 802 transported from place to place. I am bound to say that I repose as much confidence in those of my colleagues in my office who happen to be in one grade as another, provided they have gone through, as I try to secure that they have, the degree of clearance which it is necessary for them to go through in order to handle that kind of material. But I absolutely deny that there is any degree of risk attached to handing sensitive material to people below a certain grade of education or level in the Civil Service, and I think it would be most dangerous if one of the results of the Tribunal were to let that sort of thing go by.
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said he thought there ought to have been a lapse of time after Vassall came back from Moscow before he was employed in the intelligence section of the Admiralty; and he went on to say that the Report had claimed only that he would be useful there. But the Report gives a very good reason why the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was rejected. These posts at the Moscow Embassy are unpleasant enough in any case, as anybody who has read the account of the life they have to live in the conditions of an Iron Curtain Embassy, clearly set out in the Report, must realise quite intensely. The Report says quite plainly, that if you once let it be known that, "accept a job in the Moscow Embassy or in an Iron Curtain Embassy, and you will not be employed on secret material for some time afterwards because you will be suspect as a security risk" you would not get decent people to go there. You must up to a point, and subject to proper security vetting, trust people whom you employ in these Embassies. Indeed, in one sense you ought to trust them more than anybody else; because as we now know they are being subjected, for the sake of their country, to temptations and to actual hardships which many of us would greatly dislike.
It is said that somebody ought to have known that this unfortunate young man was a homosexual. I want to be perfectly candid about this. There was a time in my life when I thought I knew how to tell a homosexual. I am quite sure that I do not now.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Well, I suppose they were what the brash young journalist of the Daily Mirror—or was it the Sunday Mirror?—the other day was applying. But I just wonder how far one ought to pry into other people's private lives. Just because a man has a high voice, or is perhaps a little neat in his dress, or is unmarried, is he to be suspect and deprived of employment? It is popularly supposed that you can tell homosexuals from these indices. Can you? Supposing he is what somebody described as a "possible latent homosexual", which I suppose means a perfectly innocent man who happens to have somewhere in his psychological make-up an attraction for his own sex? Are you to persecute him, to treat him as a security risk? How far is this doctrine to go?
I worked in the last Parliament quite closely with a well-known man who was subsequently convicted of a rather crude homosexual offence. It never occurred to me that I was working with such a person. Many of us in this House will have known, and will remember, the horrible case of Sir Ian Horobin. I wonder how many of us guessed that for 40 years of his life he had been living in this particular way? I did not; that is all I know. Nor is it at all true that homosexuals are all traitors. I do not want it to be thought that I am particularly tender on the subject—I am not; I am the reverse. I would not accept for an instant the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Arran, if only because the removal of the criminal code would not have made any difference whatever in this case. The element of blackmail in this case was not based on English law but on Russian law; and as a matter of fact that code continues for adultery and for ordinary sexual activities of every kind.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
Would not my noble Leader agree that it is much less likely to be found in the case of heterosexual offences than in the case of homosexual offences, for the simple reason that a homosexual goes to prison and a heterosexual does not?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, apart from the fact that the Russians 804 worked on Russian law and not on English law—and said so, in this particular case—Mikhailski went for one girl because of her relations with a man; for a man because of his relations with a girl; for another man because he was in the black market; for another with drink and for another with money. The fact is that if you are going to think that blackmail is limited to offences for which in England you can be sent to prison you do not know the first thing about security.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
Really! I think we all know that a homosexual is much more liable to blackmail than anybody else. It is really too stupid to pretend otherwise.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I think that, not for the first time, my noble friend is being a little injudicious. He is not borne out by the facts of this case. But I must say that I am a little alarmed about some of the things which are beginning to be suggested and said as proper precautions to take inside a Government office. After all, girls, whisky and money are, or can be, faults just as dangerous to security, each in their own way, as perversion; and political convictions of one sort or another are sometimes worse than all three.
It is a little difficult to know how far the critics are expecting us to go in screening our own subordinates. No one—at least, not I,—would underestimate the seriousness of the Soviet Union penetrating our defences by securing the services of even so incompetent a spy as Vassall, operating, as he was shown to do, haphazardly and probably relatively ineffectively, for so long. But I think we should not, at any rate between ourselves, forget exactly what this battle is about. We are of course in a nominal state of peace, and we intend to remain so; and I think we must not, because we are deeply concerned about the long series of security cases which we have had since 1945, lose those characteristics of mutual trust and respect for the individual which are the very things we are fighting for.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston, referred to the fact, if it be one, published at least in the Press, that the Russians spend £600 million on their security 805 services, and that we spend only £12 million. It may be that we ought to spend a little more or do a little more—I do not know. But one thing I hope is that we never spend on the scale he suggests the Russians spend. It means that every office is full of spies spying on one another, and that nobody trusts anybody else. I would rather have—and I tell the House frankly that I would rather have—the occasional scandal and know that I lived in a free country than to attempt (and I believe it would be a vain attempt) to riddle the Government service with mutual distrust, suspicion and investigation of the sexual characteristics in our private lives.
It is asked: if the Russians knew that Vassall was a homosexual, why could not we? The answer is a perfectly simple one. It is said in the Report, and I do not intend to be too mealy-mouthed about it, that there is one way, and one way only, that you can be perfectly certain about what you are dealing with, and that is to employ an agent provocateur. That is what the Russians did. They employed Mikhailski.
§ LORD PEDDIE
Before they did that, surely they must have had a strong suspicion that Vassall was a homosexual.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think Mikhailski tried everybody on everything, according to the evidence; and this time he got this one on that. The fact is that that is a certain way of doing it, but so far as I know, it is the only certain way. I would feel that I had the whole House behind me in saying that that is a device which is not open to the security service of a free country.
I do not want to prolong this debate. At the end of the day, I accept that there axe strictures in this Report, and I accept that they are true. I recognise that we are in the presence of tragedy and scandal. But I still feel that the whole balance of the Inquiry shows 806 encouragingly little wrong, and encourages us to go on using the measures of a free society to combat the corruption in this perfectly terrifying picture of life behind the Iron Curtain in a free country's Embassy which the Report reveals. It was in those circumstances that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced the suggestion that there should be a permanent panel to investigate security cases of this kind. I think that there has been a little misunderstanding, both by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, about that suggestion. What I think is suggested is a Committee, with probably a lawyer in the Chair, who will be permanently available for work of this kind. The Privy Counsellors are designed, I think, exactly for what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked. They are there to confer with the Government—they will not necessarily be Government Privy Counsellors—as to the kind of circumstances which justify a particular reference to the Committee. It is because they have this limited function that I cannot accept the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, that they are in any way designed to hide the responsibility of the Government for the government of the country. I do not think this is so. I think that it is to give the Opposition, through the only kind of channel which can sometimes handle material of this kind, a means of making representations in the proper quarter.
My Lords, we have had our debate, and I should like to thank noble Lords who have taken part in it. I have not mentioned the excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Hanworth. I cannot help feeling that he has been away from us for a long time, and his attempt finally to launch upon this scene has been a most successful one, in a speech made with great knowledge on this subject.
§ On Question, Resolution agreed to.