HL Deb 10 May 1983 vol 442 cc415-6
Lord Renton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many known communists of various kinds are non-industrial civil servants now serving the Ministry of Defence, and what steps will be taken to ensure that only those who are undoubtedly and exclusively loyal to Her Majesty continue to serve there.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, As my noble friend will know, it is not the practice to discuss in detail our security arrangements, and on reflection I hope he will agree that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the number of known members of the Communist Party who are non-industrial civil servants serving in the Ministry of Defence. I can say that the number is very small. While their political views are of course their own concern, steps are taken to ensure that known communists or communist sympathisers serving in the Ministry of Defence do not have access to sensitive information.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply and that reassurance. Will he remain vigilant that nobody whose loyalty may be divided will have access to any sensitive information or access to any part of the works and installations of the Ministry of Defence?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, it has been the stated policy of successive Governments to ensure that no one who is known to be a member or sympathiser of the Communist Party or of a fascist organisation, shall be employed on work which is vital to the security of the state.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that it has always been extremely difficult to balance the needs of security against civil liberties? Will he give the assurance that no significant changes will be made to the well known established procedures without parliamentary debate?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am sure that not only can I give that assurance for the next five days, but I shall be happy to give it for the next term as well!

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, will the noble Earl say what progress has been made with the inquiry into security vetting and other aspects of security?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, my understanding at present is that that will fall as some of the other legislation is falling at the moment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, did my noble friend's answer to the second supplementary mean that he was prepared even to consider having to wait for a parliamentary debate before the proper distribution of staff could be decided upon?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I slightly lost the question asked by my noble friend on that supplementary. However, I shall read what he has said in Hansard, and if I may I shall let him know the answer.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that all the spy revelations over the past three years concerned people who came not from the working class but from the universities—the higher ups?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, with the advanced system of education perhaps they will soon be the same.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does every non-industrial civil servant, in respect of whom it is recorded that he is a communist, know that that fact has been entered on his record, and does he have an opportunity to challenge it?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think that the answer to that question would be, No.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister a question which perhaps is more important. Have any of these secret communists made their way to Tory Party headquarters? One sometimes suspects it in view of the strange, unrealistic policies that emanate from there.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has such an excellent entreé into the Conservative Central Office that I shall leave it to him.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that it is very difficult to identify the wolves in sheep's clothing? Is my noble friend completely satisfied that we have the processes to discover who in fact is a wolf in sheep's clothing?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I of course bow to my noble friend's knowledge of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The answer to my noble friend's question is: Yes, we are absolutely confident that we have the right methods for this particular work.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that history seems to reveal that the best recruiting sergeant for the communist party in Great Britain has always been an extreme right-wing Government?

The Earl of Avon

No, my Lords.

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