HL Deb 12 July 1973 vol 344 cc840-9

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: "I told the House on the 14th of June that the Security Commission had been invited to verify that security was not endangered as a result of the incidents referred to in my Statement on the 24th of May or by the actions of the persons involved.

"The Commission has now submitted its report to me. It is being published in full this afternoon. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

"As a result of its inquiries the Commission concludes categorically that no classified information was in fact communicated directly or indirectly to the intelligence service of any potentially hostile Power as a result of the incidents in question. It concludes that, in the case of the right honourable and noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, there was no potential danger to security that would have justified denying him further access to highly classified information, had he continued in office. In the case of the former hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Commission would have felt compelled to recommend that he should be denied access to classified information.

"The Commission has come across no evidence worthy of credence that any Minister other than the former honourable Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was involved with Norma Levy or other members of that ring.

"The Commission has found no related failure of security arrangements as they existed at the time in the Civil Service Department, the Ministry of Defence or elsewhere. It does, however, make a number of suggestions for ways in which the existing security procedures could be improved.

"The Commission concludes that the practical difficulties involved in trying to apply the process of positive vetting for Ministers are insuperable, but it does make the following recommendations:

  1. (i) Any Minister appointed to a post in which he will handle more sensitive information than he has been used to handling in his previous appointments should be given a supplementary briefing by the Security Service additional to that which he receives on his first appointment.
  2. (ii) Security containers are already provided in the homes of those Ministers who request them because they take secret documents home more than occasionally. In future security containers should be provided in the homes of all Cabinet Ministers. They should also be provided in the homes of other Ministers who handle any substantial volume of sensitive material. There should be a careful re-examination of the need for this precaution in the homes of all Ministers not in the Cabinet.
  3. (iii) Permanent Secretaries should ensure that the attention of Ministers who do not have such containers should be drawn to any significant increase in the number of secret papers that they take home, and that all Ministers should receive all possible help in fulfilling their personal security responsibilities.
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  5. (iv) For Ministers in some appointments, Security Service briefing on arrangements for personal and physical security should be expanded or supplemented.
  6. (v) Whenever a new Minister joins a Department, the Permanent Secretary should ensure that that Minister is appropriately briefed on departmental security arrangements, and is content with the adequacy of the security briefings provided.
  7. (vi) When a Minister is first appointed he is already briefed by the Security Service on the basic threat to our security and the system of protective security, and his attention is drawn to the standing instructions on precautions against unauthorised disclosures of information. The Prime Minister should additionally issue guidance for Ministers on the potential security implications of scandalous behaviour and of other circumstances which might expose them to pressure by hostile intelligence agents; and Ministers should be required to refer to such guidance on appointment and from time to time subsequently.
"The Commission also suggests that any Prime Minister contemplating the appointment as a Minister of someone who was not until recently a member of either House, and who may not therefore be well known to him or his senior political colleagues, should bear in mind the desirability of satisfying himself that there is no character defect or other circumstance which would mean that the appointment of that person would endanger security.

"I have accepted all these recommendations and suggestions. I am also arranging for the attention of all Ministers to be recalled regularly to the standing instructions and guidance on security matters."

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

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for having repeated this Statement, and we are also grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and the members of the Commission. I do not think your Lordships will wish to debate this matter at any great length to-day. We note that a distinction is drawn between the two individuals who were affected in regard to their liability to access to security information. I would make only one comment. Naturally, we are glad that the Prime Minister has accepted the recommendations; but I am a little surprised that it is necessary for them to be re-stated in this form. Without wishing to go into detail on the security arrangements of a previous Government, I am bound to say that a great deal of trouble was taken, even at the risk of some Ministers being slightly resistant to it. None the less it was taken, not simply by officials and Permanent Secretaries (and there is of course no discredit on Permanent Secretaries) but by a Minister specially appointed for the job; namely, my noble friend Lord Wigg.

Regarding the proposal that Ministers in some appointments should have a special Security Service briefing for personnel and physical security and that these briefings should be expanded or supplemented, I should like to suggest that perhaps the Government may wish to consider who in fact in the Government is carrying this responsibility. It is presumably the Prime Minister, but I am bound to say that throughout my tenure of a sensitive Department I was made very aware of the security aspect; and it suggests to me that there has been some falling off in this matter of security. I do not press this in order to make Party political points, but it is a matter which some people are apt on occasions to take rather more lightly than they should and therefore there is a need for a very serious degree of concentration. I do not think there is anything more I can usefully say on this matter, but no doubt when we have had a chance to study the actual Report of the Security Commission we may wish to go into it a little further.


My Lords, from these Benches we should like to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and his Commission for the speed with which they have completed their inquiries and for the good sense in the conclusions which they have put forward. Of course, we must read the Report but, on a personal note, I would hope that this Report might signal the end of a very unhappy and unfortunate episode.


My Lords, I should also like to re-echo the thanks expressed by the two noble Lords to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and his colleagues, who have carried out this work and produced the Report so quickly. I can assure the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that there is no question whatever of the Government not giving the very highest priority to this matter. The Prime Minister, as he rightly said, has an overriding responsibility for security; but within each Department the Minister also should bear responsibility for security matters.


My Lords, I do not know whether I shall be in order if I make a short speech or whether I should put what I have to say in an interrogative form.


My Lords, I think it would be more in accordance with the practice of the House if the noble Lord would be kind enough to put it in the form of a question.


My Lords, if I may intervene before my noble friend speaks, I think the latest version of the Companion referring to this matter says that there is no differentiation between Front Bench and Back Benches and that short comments rather than speeches are in order—in other words, they do not have to be wholly interrogative.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is looking forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, on this matter, knowing his interest, whether he puts his remarks in the form of a question or not.


My Lords, in the circumstances I must not disappoint them. The first point I should like to put to the noble Lord is that it would be wholly unfortunate if the House, or indeed the country, were to follow the absurd advice of the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party and, just because he thinks it is convenient to him, sweep everything under the carpet. I am sure the House will agree that these matters are of transcendental importance.

The second point I should like to put is this. Would the noble Lord be kind enough to explain to the House how comes it that, while this White Paper is of such a character that repeated applications of mine for a copy are refused, there is a pretty close synopsis of the Commission's findings on the Table? That seems to be a question that requires answering. The third point—and I can hardly put it in interrogative form—is that I should like to say how pleased I am, as indeed are the other noble Lords who have spoken, that the Security Commission have reported so quickly, having in mind that in the case of the Report which appeared last weekend it took them just on a year to make the Report—so it seems that there are none so quick as those who want to be quick!;

The next point is this. It is a fact that in 1964, when the Labour Government took office, particularly in the Service Departments, they found that in two of the Services the security arrangements were, for practical purposes, nonexistent. The White Paper that was published last weekend—and I am sure the noble Lord will take this in interrogatory form—disclosed (would he not agree?) the most serious shortcomings on a fundamental point: that each Department must be responsible for its own security. The Secretary of State for Defence, or the Head of any other Department, cannot shuffle it off on to his Permanent Secretary any more than the Prime Minister can escape from his responsibility. That excellent Report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, a decade ago revealed the fact that there was a breakdown in Ministerial responsibility. While we have not had the opportunity of reading the Diplock Report in detail, would the noble Lord agree that the White Paper last week and the one to-day reveals clearly the Prime Minister was guilty, perhaps in a minor degree, of neglect of duty and the Secretary of State certainly was guilty? Would the Minister be good enough to explain how it came about that in a serious matter of this kind Lord Lambton was not seen by the Chief Whip, by the Head of his Department, but that the unpleasant task of telling him that he was under surveillance was left to the Permanent Secretary?


My Lords, as to the availability of the Report, the normal practice is that Reports are available in the Printed Paper Office when a Statement is being made. I have checked and I understand that copies are available to noble Lords. I do not think that it would be right for me to comment on any previous Reports of the Security Commission. What I am doing is to repeat a Statement made by the Prime Minister on the publication to-day of this Report. I can assure the noble Lord, whose deep interest in this matter I well appreciate and understand, that there is no question of anyone in this Government seeking to escape from his responsibility for security, from the Prime Minister down. The Prime Minister has a responsibility; the Departmental Minister has a responsibility within his own Department. We are all conscious of that, and we will try to do everything we can to live up to our responsibilities.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware what great pleasure his Statement 'has given to many Members of this House that the noble Lord's predecessor has been cleared? May I say, in addition, speaking entirely for myself but, I feel sure, expressing the view of many Members of this House, with what gratitude we have heard this and how we should welcome him back to our deliberations at any time he feels ready to return to this noble House.


My Lords, may I, as an ex-Service Minister, put a simple question to the Leader of the House? In view of the fact that the conclusions of the Commission were to the effect that neither of the parties mentioned recently in this affair was involved in anything associated with security, why was it necessary to appoint the Commission, and why have these recommendations been made? Is it not a fact that over a long period of years the only persons who have been involved in espionage in the United Kingdom, citizens of the United Kingdom in particular, were officials or junior servants in some of the Services, but never Ministers? Not even in the Profumo case did this happen. In those circumstances, why are there all these recommendations and a kind of suspicion generated that Ministers might be involved? Is the Leader of the House aware that when I occupied the positions of Financial Secretary to the War Office, Secretary of State for War and Minister of Defence, it never occurred to me—and I was never vetted or briefed—that there was the slightest suggestion of espionage in the Department?

Is not the matter that is before the Government—and this comes in one of the conclusions a matter of misbehaviour on the part of the Ministers? It is not a matter of security at all. I never believed that either Lord Lambton or the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, were involved in security. Nor do I believe it is possible for junior Ministers to gain a great deal of information which would be of any value to a potential aggressor. Therefore it is only a question of the behaviour of Ministers, and that is a matter of considerable importance from an ordinary standpoint. But, as regards security, I do not know why these recommendations were necessary. I hope that it is clearly understood that, generally speaking, those persons who are appointed Ministers in any Government, whatever its complexion, are not persons who are likely to indulge in espionage.


My Lords, the Prime Minister made his own inquiries before making his Statement in another place on May 24. He invited the Security Commission to verify that security was not endangered as a result of the incidents to which he referred. There is in this matter a public responsibility; there is a need to be vigilant all the time. If the Security Commission make recommendations, as they have done, for the tightening up of security in a number of respects which were itemised in the Statement I have just repeated, it is for the Government to accept these and see that they are fully implemented.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, would the noble Lord pay great attention to the point put by my noble friend earlier about the availability of this White Paper? One of the problems of discussing it now—and my noble friend Lord Shinwell will, when he has read the Report, see the point—is that those of us who saw the "ticker tape" before lunch know why the Diplock Commission drew the distinction between the former Member for Berwick-on-Tweed and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe; why they have said that they would have felt it necessary to exclude him from any access to certain information and went on to say—and this was on the tape this morning; I saw it when I came into the building—that because of the nature of the acts in which he engaged, and the people with whom he engaged in them, he had laid himself wide open to blackmail. We are discussing this matter to-day when none of us has formerly seen the Diplock Report. Yet if it was on our "ticker tape" this morning, it must have been on the tapes of every other recipient of the service. Therefore we are the only people who are discussing it blind. I hope, therefore, we shall not have any more discussion until noble friends have had a chance to read it so that we are all in possession of the full information.

With respect, the noble Lord the Leader of the House should find out how this Report came to be so widely circulated during the morning, even though it was embargoed, so it said—not for publication before 3.30 this afternoon. If the appearance of it on every "ticker tape" in the whole of London is not in effect publication, it is difficult to know what is.


My Lords, the House has listened with great interest to several noble Lords who have spoken in this short discussion, especially since a number have on previous occasions held high Ministerial office—in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, with particular responsibility for security. I will certainly look into whether there was any leak. The time of publication, as I understand it, was 3.30 in both Houses in the normal way. The advice of the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, I am sure was wise: that we should now study the Report, which is available at the Printed Paper Office, and digest its implications.


My Lords, I do not wish to turn this into a debate, but may I ask the noble Lord to bear two points in mind? He has now said that he will investigate this matter—though I do not suggest it should go to the Diplock Commission—as to how there has been this advance breach of information. None the less it is important and we should have an answer which we do not necessarily expect him to be able to give to-day. May I ask the noble Lord also whether he would consider the point that I and my noble friend Lord Wigg made, which is an important point from a security point of view. I am not raising this in order to prolong the discussion, but it is not just enough to assume that, because Ministers vary in their relations with Permanent Secretaries, the Permanent Secretary can undertake this responsibility. The responsibility has either to be that of the Prime Minister or of a Minister, and, with all the strength at my command, as someone who has seen this operating, I urge this as a serious point. It is easy to say that Ministers are responsible, but somebody has to see that they in fact act responsibly. Perhaps the noble Lord could bear that point in mind.


My Lords, in ending this discussion I can say to the noble Lord that I will certainly make sure that all the points that have been raised will be given the fullest consideration.


My Lords, I will not tax the patience of the House for more than a second. I am loath to disagree with my noble friend Lord Shinwell publicly, although we do privately continuously. He made a point about security which touches on the point made by the noble Lord who paid his tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. The trouble here arises from the White Paper following the conference at which Privy Counsellors laid down a standard which in fact only bordered on the line between security and personal behaviour. In my opinion, and I think it is a fact, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was sacrificed not in the name of security but of the earlier White Paper, and I hold strongly the view that the standard of conduct that was imposed and was accepted publicly in 1956—nearly 20 years ago—has changed, and therefore the findings of the conference of Privy Counsellors might brought up to date after further consideration by the Government, or by calling another conference of Privy Counsellors.


My Lords, I should like to take that point into consideration.