HL Deb 13 June 1967 vol 283 cc824-7

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is making in another place about the Radcliffe Report. I shall use his own words, and I am now quoting the Prime Minister.

"The Government have received the Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors who were appointed ' to examine the circumstances surrounding the publication of an article in the Daily Express of February 21, entitled "Cable Vetting Sensation" in relation to the 'D' Notice system; and to consider what improvements, if any, are required in that system in order to maintain it as a voluntary system based on mutual trust and confidence between the Government and the Press in the interests alike of the freedom of the Press and of the security of the State'.

"The Government wish to take this opportunity to thank Lord Radcliffe and his two colleagues for the great care and thoroughness with which they have examined a very complex subject.

"The Report itself will be published in full; and it will be available to honourable Members in the Vote Office at 4 p.m."

That is, in our case, the Printed Paper Office.

"I should also tell the House that the Report has an Annex dealing with certain very secret aspects of the Committee's inquiry; and in accordance with the Committee's recommendations this will not be published. Naturally, however, in accordance with our normal custom in these matters, the Annex has been made available, together with the Report itself, to the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

"Moreover, in view of the importance and complexity of the issues involved, the Government have thought it right, with the concurrence of Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues, to publish, in addition, the evidence which was given to the Committee. Certain portions of this evidence have had to be omitted on grounds of security; but the whole of it has been seen by the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he will confirm that he is satisfied that the omissions are necessary on security grounds.

"Finally, in the light of the Report the Government have closely examined all the circumstances surrounding this incident, including the actions of the Departments concerned, and also considered its implications for the future of the 'D' Notice system. The Government's conclusions are contained in a White Paper which is being published simultaneously with the Report and Evidence.

"The Government have been giving very careful thought to the lessons to be drawn from this incident by both parties to the D' Notice system. The White Paper emphasises in the following words that: 'the Government attach the greatest importance to maintaining and strengthening the 'D' Notice system and to retaining the free and voluntary co-operation of the Press in its effective working. For their part they will do all in their power, consistently with their overriding responsibility for national security, to contribute to this purpose.' "I propose therefore to take the earliest opportunity of discussing personally with the Press how this might best be done.

"When honourable Members have had time to study the documents which are being published to-day, the House will no doubt wish to debate them; and the necessary arrangements can be discussed through the usual channels."

My Lords, that ends the Prime Minister's Statement.


My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches I should like to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for having repeated the Prime Minister's Statement here. I am sure he will appreciate that until we have read the Report and the White Paper it is difficult to comment, or indeed to ask pertinent questions, but perhaps he would take note that it may be that, after we have had that opportunity, it will seem desirable to debate the subject in your Lordship's House, too. We cannot tell as yet. I would, however, put one question. Can the noble Earl tell us whether the Government's conclusions about the incident of February 21, set out in the White Paper, go beyond what has been summarised in the Prime Minister's Statement? The Statement informed us of the Prime Minister's intention to discuss the whole matter with the Press, but what were the Government's actual conclusions about the incident of February 21?


My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches I should like to thank the noble Earl for repeating this Statement. I feel, in somewhat the same way as does the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that it is difficult to make any sensible comment or even to ask questions when we have so little before us. But I think it is important, as the Government have said, to retain the free and voluntary co-operation of the Press in the effective working of the 'D' Notice system, and we are very glad that the Government have reiterated that point.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their readiness to await the documents before offering any comments, and I can assure them that of course we are available to discuss with them at any time the question of any further elucidation that it is felt is required. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, asked me about the Government's conclusions relating to the incident which led to all this argument. I should hesitate to summarise the Report or the White Paper, and I think, if I might say so, that if the noble Lord and others will wait just a few minutes more they will be able to make up their own minds on that particular point.


My Lords, can the House take it from the Statement of the Prime Minister that the Government consider that the publication of these articles on February 21 and 22 did not in any way damage our national security? Secondly, could the noble Lord amplify the reference to the implications as to the future of the 'D' Notice system referred to in the Statement?


My Lords, I am very sorry, but I should not care to add anything this afternoon. It certainly would be misleading to suggest that the Government, now that all this has been gone into, wish to pay any kind of tribute to these articles; but I think that for me to add any further criticism now, until noble Lords have had a chance of examining the documents, would be unfair. I think, therefore, that I had better leave the matter where it is for this afternoon.