§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)
My Lords, I understand that this would be a convenient moment for me, with permission, to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. My Lords, the Statement is as follows:
"I will make a Statement about the security implications of the book published today which purports to give a detailed account of the investigations into the penetration of the security service and other parts of the public service which were undertaken following the defection of Burgess and Maclean in 1951.
"The events into which those investigations were inquiring began well over 40 years ago. Many of those named or implicated in this book as having been the subject of investigation have died. Others have long since retired. None of them is still in the public service.
"The extent of penetration was thoroughly investigated after the defection of Burgess and Maclean, as indeed the author of this book makes clear. The book contains no information of security significance which is new to the security authorities. And some of the material is inaccurate or distorted. All the cases and individuals referred to have been the subject of long and thorough investigation.
"The investigations into the possibilities of past penetration have inevitably extended widely. They 1286 have covered not only those suspected of being guilty, but also all those who could conceivably fit the often inconclusive leads available. The fact that somebody has been the subject of investigation does not necessarily or even generally mean that he has been positively suspected: many people have had to be investigated simply in order to eliminate them from the inquiry.
"The results of the investigations into Philby and Blunt are now well known. There were good reasons for suspecting a few others, but as it was not possible to secure evidence on which charges could be founded, they were required to resign or were moved to work where they had no access to classified information. Many others were eliminated from suspicion.
"Apart from the main allegation, which I will come to, I do not propose to comment on the other allegations and insinuations in this book. Nor can I say which allegations are unsubstantiated or untrue—as some certainly are—since by doing so I should implicitly be indicating those which were suspected of having a degree of substance.
"I must, however, comment upon the grave allegation which constitutes the main theme of the book, that the late Sir Roger Hollis, Director General of the Security Service from 1956 to 1965, was an agent of the Russian intelligence service.
"The case for investigating Sir Roger Hollis was based on certain leads which suggested, but did not prove, that there had been a Russian intelligence service agent at a relatively senior level in British counter-intelligence in the last years of the war. None of these leads identified Sir Roger Hollis, or pointed specifically or solely in his direction; each of them could also be taken as pointing to Philby or Blunt. But he was among those that fitted some of them, and he was therefore investigated.
"The investigation took place after Sir Roger Hollis's retirement from the security service. It did not conclusively prove his innocence; indeed it is very often impossible to prove innocence; that is why in our law the burden of proof is placed upon those who seek to establish guilt and not on those who defend innocence. But no evidence was found that incriminated him, and the conclusion reached at the end of the investigation was that he had not been an agent of the Russian intelligence service.
"This view was challenged, however, by a very few of those concerned, and in July 1974, Lord Trend, the former Secretary of the Cabinet, was asked to review in detail the investigations that had taken place into the case of Sir Roger Hollis, and to say whether they had been done in a proper and thorough manner, and whether in his view the conclusions reached were justified. He examined the files and records and he discussed the case with many of those concerned, including two people who considered that the investigation should be reopened.
"Mr. Pincher's account of Lord Trend's conclusions is wrong. The book asserts that Lord Trend 'concluded that there was a strong prima facie case that MI5 had been deeply penetrated over many years by someone who was not Blunt', and that he'named Hollis as the likeliest suspect'.Lord Trend said neither of those things, and nothing 1287 resembling them. He reviewed the investigations of the case, and found that they had been carried out exhaustively and objectively. He was satisfied that nothing had been covered up. He agreed that none of the relevant leads identified Sir Roger Hollis as an agent of the Russian intelligence service, and that each of them could be explained by reference to Philby or Blunt. Lord Trend did not refer, as the book says he did, to'the possibility that Hollis might have recruited unidentified Soviet agents into MI5'.Again, he said no such thing.
"Lord Trend, with whom I have discussed the matter, agreed with those who, although it was impossible to prove the negative, concluded that Sir Roger Hollis had not been an agent of the Russian intelligence service.
"I turn next to the arrangements for guarding against penetration now and in the future.
"All departments and agencies of Government especially those concerned with foreign and defence policy and with national security, are targets for penetration by hostile intelligence services. The security service, with its responsibilities for countering espionage and subversion, is a particularly attractive target. Recent security successes (like the expulsion of members of the Russian intelligence service from this country in 1971) would hardly have been achieved, if the security service was penetrated. The security service exercises constant vigilance not only against the risk of current penetration but also against the possibility of hitherto undetected past penetration which might have continuing implications. But, however great our confidence in the integrity and dedication of those now serving in the security service, we need to make sure that the arrangements for guarding against penetration are as good as they possibly can be, both in this area and throughout the public service.
"Existing security procedures were introduced during the years following the Second World War. Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt were all recruited by the Russian intelligence service before the Second World War, and came into the public service either before or during the war, well before existing security procedures were introduced. It was in 1948 that the then Prime Minister announced the Government's intention to bar communists and fascists and their associates from employment in the public service in connection with work the nature of which was vital to the security of the state. This led to the introduction of what came to be know as the "purge procedure". In 1952 the positive vetting procedure was instituted, with the object of establishing the integrity of civil servants employed on exceptionally secret work. In 1956 it was publicly declared that character defects, as distinct from communist or fascist sympathies or associations, might affect a civil servant's posting or promotion. In 1961 security procedures and practices in the public service were reviewed by an independent committee under the chairmanship of the late Lord Radcliffe. The committee's report, published in 1962, contained an account of those procedures, and 1288 made various recommendations for modifying them, which the Government accepted. These procedures, as modified in 1962, are still in operation today.
"These arrangements have over the years substantially reduced the vulnerability of the public service to the threat of penetration, and have served the interests of national security well. But it is 20 years since they were last subject to independent review. In that time the techniques of penetration and the nature of the risks may have changed. We need to make sure that our protective security procedures have developed to take account of those changes.
"I have therefore decided, after consultation with the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, to ask the Security Commission:'To review the security procedures and practices currently followed in the public service and to consider what, if any, changes are required.'"These terms of reference will enable the Security Commission to review, and to make recommendations as appropriate, on the arrangements and procedures used in all parts of the public service for the purposes of safeguarding information and activities involving national security against penetration by hostile intelligence services, and of excluding from appointments which give access to highly classified information both those with allegiances which they put above loyalty to their country, and those who may for whatever reason be vulnerable to attempts to undermine their loyalty and extort information by pressure or blackmail.
"There are difficult balances to be struck here between the need to protect national security, the nature and cost of the measures required to do so effectively, the need for efficiency and economy in the public service, and the individual rights of members of the public service to personal freedom and privacy. The Security Commission will be able to consider how these balances ought to be struck in the circumstances of the present time, as they conduct their review and prepare their recommendations. It will be my intention to make their findings known to the House in due course, to the extent that it is consistent with national security to do so.
"Mr. Speaker, in conclusion I should like to emphasise once again that this Statement arises out of a book which deals with investigations of matters and events which occurred many years ago. My concern is with the present and with the future. That is why I am asking the Security Commission to undertake the review which I have described."
My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement to the House of Commons.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I know that the whole House will be most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for reading out this extremely important Statement. A great deal of public concern and anxiety has arisen out of the publication of a certain book which has been publicised widely throughout the world and more widely through the media than any book in recent times, and to learn 1289 from this Statement that much of the main causes of public anxiety seems to be ill-founded is, indeed, a deeply disturbing state of affairs.
The law of this country does not enable the dead to sue for libel. I have always thought that there ought to be a right at least to get a declaration by the relatives to enable any defamation to be nailed. That cannot be done. So those who write about the reputation of the dead can do so more or less with immunity. Here we have a case where the matters alleged against Sir Roger Hollis have apparently been investigated on several occasions and most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Trend, the former Secretary of the Cabinet. It is almost shaming to hear it said that:The book asserts that Lord Trend 'concluded that there was a strong prima facie case that MI5 had been deeply penetrated over many years by someone who was not Blunt', and that he 'named Hollis as the likeliest suspect'",when the Statement says, after inquiry, and no doubt discussion with Lord Trend, that:Lord Trend said neither of those things, and nothing resembling them".It is shaming, my Lords. The Statement says:He was satisfied that nothing had been covered up. He agreed that none of the relevant leads identified Sir Roger Hollis as an agent of the Russian Intelligence Service, and that each of them could be explained by reference to Philby or Blunt. Lord Trend did not refer, as the book says he did, to 'the possibility that Hollis might have recruited unidentified Soviet agents into MI5'. Again, he said no such thing.The Statement then continues:Lord Trend, with whom I have discussed the matter, agreed with those who, although it was impossible to prove the negative, concluded that Sir Roger Hollis had not been an agent of the Russian Intelligence Service.That, I suppose is the most that can be done now in regard to the reputation of Sir Roger Hollis. There cannot be a positive acquittal because he is dead and cannot be tried and brought to judgment. But the House will read this Statement with care and I have little doubt that at any rate it will give some comfort to the family and relatives of this man, who must have suffered agony in recent days.
With regard to the proposal of the Government and the Prime Minister—which has already been put to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and with which he has entirely agreed—that there should now be a further inquiry into the efficiency of our security services, I should like to say that we on this side of the House, and I am sure the whole House, will be in full agreement. It is clearly essential that we should ensure that our safeguards against Soviet or any other penetration of our security and intelligence services should be as effective as possible.
If I may say so, the note that was struck towards the end of the Statement seemed to me to be impressive and valuable. As the Statement says:There are difficult balances to be struck here between the need to protect national security, the nature and cost of the measures required to do so effectively, the need for efficiency and economy in the public service, and the individual rights of members of the public service to personal freedom and privacy.I am sure that that sane and civilised approach to the problem will be welcomed. We are, indeed, most grateful that a Statement in such depth—somewhat unusual depth in cases of this kind—has been made by the Prime Minister and made available to the House.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, we, too, would like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for repeating this very important Statement, which, on the face of it, appears to discredit completely the insinuations regarding existing security made in the recent book by Mr. Chapman Pincher. That is most satisfactory. On behalf of my colleagues, I should also like to share the indignation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, at what has happened and to express our deepest sympathy with the family and relations of the late Sir Roger Hollis. I understand from the Statement that the Government have no reason whatever to doubt Sir Roger's loyalty, but, if the faintest doubt should still persist on that score, then I imagine that it would be only prudent—if it has not been done already—to re-vet positively those members of the service who were recruited by him or when he was in a position to influence recruitment. There would be no harm in doing that.
We think in any case that it is excellent that the Government have decided to instruct the Security Commission to hold another review on the terms of reference suggested, which seem to me to be admirable. I imagine that the inquiry will be conducted in private and it is satisfactory that Parliament will be informed of its results from time to time.
Perhaps I may add, as one who long, long ago had some knowledge of the secret services, that the trouble often is that such services, if they are, indeed, of the cloak and dagger type—that is to say, clandestine—tend inevitably to attract what might be called cloak and dagger characters who are perhaps unduly fascinated by unorthodox schemes such as double agents, double bluffs, deception, bribery and whatever; whereas, on the contrary, if such services are completely open and are conducted exactly like any other Government department, they may well be pretty useless, as, I am afraid, is evident from what happened to the CIA when it was, as it were, rendered inoperative as a result of disclosures over Vietnam. So perhaps we in this country shall do no harm if in the future we steer between this Scylla and this Charybdis.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I shall of course answer my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel separately. I should like to thank both the noble and learned Lord on the Opposition Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for what they have said. I agreed with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and I hope that the House will think that this was right, that I would stick pretty closely to the Statement in repeating it to your Lordships' House. However, I had the feeling very strongly that both the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord were speaking, in a sense, for the whole House when they gave vent to the sentiments which they have expressed. I do not think that I can usefully add very much to what they have said. As regards the two suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I shall gladly pass them on to the appropriate quarter.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, the doubts thrown by Mr. Chapman Pincher on the loyalty of the head of the security service were, as my right 1291 honourable friend the Prime Minister said in her Statement, very grave and disquieting. They really are the more so now that we have learnt from the Statement that there were serious errors of fact in his judgment of Sir Roger Hollis. I join with the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in hoping that this Statement will give some comfort to the relations of Sir Roger.
In her response to the book, I think that the Prime Minister struck the right balance between past, present and future. There never can be any cover-up of treachery and it is quite clear that there has been no such thing in this case. But perhaps it is reassuring that the highest officers in the service are not free from investigation and that a constant watch is kept on matters which concern the security of the country. On the other hand, an unrestrained witch-hunt by those who are careless of the facts can play straight into the hands of our potential enemies. I think that we know how closely our potential enemies watch these matters. The Prime Minister was quite right in asking the Security Commission to look at the organisation of these matters, and it is very important that this should be agreed between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, because that is how we should handle these very grave matters.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I am absolutely sure that the whole House would wish me to express my gratitude to my noble friend, who speaks from a position of unique authority and almost unique experience.
Lord Paget of Northampton
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor one further question. We are not really concerned only with one man or one book. The practice of exploiting libels on the dead has become too common. Could not the criminal law of libel at least be examined to see whether any amendments are necessary in order to make criminal prosecution available against those who libel the dead?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, that is a question which has been ventilated from time to time. We all feel indignation against those who traduce those who can no longer answer for themselves; but I think that it raises very wide issues which had perhaps better not be explored too closely on this occasion, especially as I am not the normal spokesman for the Home Office, which is responsible for the criminal law.
§ Lord Shinwell
My Lords, I think that every Member of your Lordships' House must accept the opinion of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that he stands by the Statement made by the Prime Minister, which he repeated in this House. We must accept that and not start an investigation of our own in your Lordships' House.
However, I should like to ask one or two questions which I believe are important. One emerges because of the question asked by my noble friend Lord Paget. It is much more than a question of what can be done about the libelling of the dead; in recent weeks there has been some libelling of those who are not yet dead. 1292 For example, references to the book have been made in the press and I recall one statement in which 20 Peers were involved, although I am ready to be corrected about that if I am wrong. I read that statement. It appears to me that we cannot allow that to pass because we shall look at our neighbours and they will look at us: that cannot be allowed.
In 1952 I was involved along with Lord Radcliffe and the late Selwyn Lloyd, who were members of the committee, in an investigation which was based on statements made by Mr. Chapman Pincher in the Express. After very close and meticulous investigation, we came to the conclusion that there was no substance in the complaints made, and we dismissed them. A Statement was made in another place, and that was the end of the matter. Is it not at all possible to do the following? If someone makes a statement, either direct or by implication, that a Member of your Lordships' House, or anyone in public life or even outside public life, is guilty in some form or another of disclosing secret information, has the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor no authority to call that person to book and say, "Produce your evidence"? I do not think that we ought to allow the matter to lie completely at rest, but we should investigate so far as we possess authority to do so, and no more than that. I should like the opinion of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, as regards individuals who are still alive, they are, of course, entitled to invoke the law of defamation either in England, or in Scotland (where I think that it is slightly different). Where it is not possible to identify the passage as referring to them and, therefore, they would not be able to invoke the law of defamation, of course, both Houses of Parliament have privileges of right and powers to enforce those privileges. This House has them, but of course it has been extremely slow—and probably wisely slow—to invoke them. I do not think that I can expand on that because it would perhaps be injudicious of me to attempt to do so.
§ Lord Boothby
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the Statement that he has made and also much relieved, because the history of the secret services of this country since the war has really been pretty deplorable. I should like to make one suggestion. Shortly after the first World War the then head of MI5, who was a friend of mine, said, "If you want to know how the Secret Service works you only have to read a book by a friend of yours, Sir Compton Mackenzie. It is called Water on the Brain, and every word of it is true". The only suggestion that I should like to make to the noble and learned Lord is that he should ensure that this inquiry which is set up reads the book. It will not only derive great enjoyment from it, but much interest. It is one of the most amusing as well as one of the truest books that Sir Compton ever wrote; and, since I have read it, I have never had any illusions about MI5 or MI6.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I was aware of Compton Mackenzie's book. There is also another very well-known author who has written on the subject in the form of fiction.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor give us any indication whether, in the course of the inquiries, the investigations and the reconsiderations that will take place, Mr. Chapman Pincher will be asked about the sources of information on which he based the statements in his book? Is it not a fact that he claims that he obtained his information from members of the secret service?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord will see that the terms of reference of the investigation to which I have referred are:To review the security procedures and practices currently followed in the public service and to consider what, if any, changes are required".I have no doubt that if the Security Commission wishes to interview any particular person, it will be able to do so.
§ Lord Hankey
My Lords, before we leave this question, would it be in order to ask the Government whether they have considered the light that this affair throws on Soviet policy towards this country? Would it not seem that the Soviets are doing their best to discredit the security services on both sides of the Atlantic? Have the Government considered the possible connection with the declared Communist, Mr. Phillip Agee, who has caused infinite trouble for the CIA on the other side of the Atlantic, and then came over here and caused very great embarrassment to Her Majesty's Government by writing a book about our secret services? The Government tried to get that book suppressed and lost the case in the courts, I believe. I say that subject to correction.
We have also seen a really disgraceful broadcast on BBC1 about MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. I believe that the material published in Philip Agee's book was more extensive still, but in my opinion that broadcast ought not to have been allowed to take place. I know that it was cut down in length at the request of the Ministries concerned, but in my opinion it should not have been allowed to take place and I should like to know what the Government think about this.
I should particularly like to ask the Government whether it is not clear that these security services are our principal protection against Soviet subversion; that this country is very high on the list of those which the Soviet Government wish to subvert, and that a great deal of material could be found to support that? Would the Government consider whether more effective measures ought now to be taken in view of the position of this country, to ensure that we can support these important security organisations in the work that they have to do?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I am quite sure that many noble Lords will share some of the feelings of the noble Lord who has just spoken from the Cross-Benches. I think that our greatest protection is a robust determination to defend our own values and our own services from false attacks wherever they are made and however they may be motivated. But we have to balance the needs of a free society against the needs to protect its values. One does not in fact cast out Satan, as I think the right reverend Prelates would remind us, by invoking Beelzebub.
§ Lord Balogh
My Lords, will the review include the methods of recruitment and the methods of promotion in these services, because I think there is an essential fault at that point?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I am not sure that I entirely caught the noble Lord's question, but of course methods of recruitment, either by hostile intelligence or by our own counter-intelligence services, would be within the purview, I think, of the review which my right honourable friend has in mind.