§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question which has been asked in another place on the need for a review of the 140 operations of the Security Service in the mid 1970s. The Statement is as follows:
"Mr. Speaker, the right honourable gentleman the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has today called for an inquiry into recent allegations about the security service in relation to the Government led by the right honourable and noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, between 1974 and 1976.
"Allegations of this nature first gained currency 10 years ago, in July 1977. They were summarised in a speech in this House on 28th July 1977 by my right honourable friend the member for Blackpool South. The allegations ranged widely, but were to the effect that the security service had sought to discredit the duly constituted government of the day, and in particular its Prime Minister; or that some members of the security service had conspired together to do so.
"On 23rd August 1977, the right honourable gentleman the then Prime Minister issued a statement in which he said that he had conducted detailed inquiries into the recent allegations about the security service and he was satisfied that they did not constitute grounds for lack of confidence in the competence or impartiality of the security service or for instituting a special inquiry. On 8th December 1977, he told the House that Lord Wilson associated himself with that statement and therefore there was no reason to carry the matter any further.
"I accepted the right honourable gentleman's statement and conclusions without question. I believed them, and I still believe them, to be correct.
"Early in 1978 a book was publised, entitled The Pencourt File, which contained fuller accounts of these allegations. My honourable friend the member for Woking has let me see copies of correspondence which he exchanged with the right honourable gentleman the then Prime Minister. My honourable friend drew the right honourable gentleman's attention to the contents of the book, and in particular to a number of statements attributed in the book to the then Sir Harold Wilson. My honourable friend urged the then Prime Minister to arrange for a full inquiry to be undertaken by the Security Commission.
"In his reply dated 20th February 1978, the then Prime Minister said:'So far as I can see, there are no significant statements about matters of national security in this book of which the authorities were not aware when I issued a statement on allegations about the Security Service on 23rd August last; I put the statement in the Official Report on 8th December.'.He concluded—and I again quote—'I have nothing to add to it.'."In recent weeks these allegations have been given renewed currency in press reports which the right honourable gentleman, in his statement issued this morning, says go into greater detail than the 1977 inquiry knew about.
"It would not be appropriate for me or other members of this Administration to see papers relating to that time, and we have not asked to do so.
"I can, however, tell the House that the Director General of the Security Service has reported to me 141 that, over the last four months, he has conducted a thorough investigation into all these stories, taking account of the earlier allegations and of the other material given recent currency. There has been a comprehensive examination of all the papers relevant to that time. There have been interviews with officers in post in the relevant parts of the security service at that time, including officers whose names have been made public.
"The director general has advised me that he has found no evidence of any truth in the allegations. He has given me his personal assurance that the stories are false. In particular he has advised me that all the security service officers who have been interviewed have categorically denied that they were involved in, or were aware of, any activities or plans to undermine Lord Wilson and his Government when Lord Wilson was Prime Minister.
"The then director general has categorically denied the allegation that he confirmed the existence within the Security Service of a disaffected faction with extreme right-wing views and he has further stated that he had no reason to believe that any such faction existed. No evidence or indication has been found of any plot or conspiracy against Lord Wilson by or within the Security Service. Further, the director general has also advised me that Lord Wilson has never been the subject of a security service investigation or of any form of electronic or other surveillance by the Security Service.
"The right honourable gentleman the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, in a statement he issued on 22nd March this year, declared that he had every confidence in the integrity and ability of the present Director General of the Security Service. So do I. I accept the assurance and the advice which he has given me.
"This latest investigation, taking account of recently published material, confirms the conclusions reached and announced by the right honourable gentleman in 1977, which I then accepted without question. That was in accordance with the tradition of bipartisan Front Bench support for the security and intelligence services and the work they do.
"Like the right honourable Gentleman in 1977, and again in 1978, I do not propose to institute any other inquiry into these matters. In the light of the director general's assurance and advice, I do not believe that any further inquiry would be justified.
"So, Mr. Speaker, once again, as in 1977, detailed inquiries have confirmed the conclusion that there are no grounds for lack of confidence in the competence or impartiality of the Security Service or for instituting a special inquiry. It is time to stop raking over the embers of a period over 10 years ago and to assert confidence, as I readily do, in the Security Service's strict adherence to the directive under which it carries out its duties, and in its skill and loyalty in carrying out the tasks which it is called upon to undertake in the defence of our security and freedom."
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the reply to 142 the Private Notice Question, and we also appreciate the detail in the Statement itself. I personally say at once that the director general's words must be taken seriously. Nevertheless, I am sure the House would agree that in a parliamentary democracy there is nothing worse than a conspiracy to overthrow the elected government. If there is any doubt whatsoever that such a conspiracy may have been contemplated by individuals in positions of authority, then the circumstances should be examined in detail by an independent tribunal or committee.
The Statement has referred on a number of occasions to the inquiry of 1977, but it is the fact that the inquiry of 1977 was directed to a very narrow study and examination. As I recall, it was directed to the question of bugging. Since then of course far wider issues have been thrown open. Mr. Peter Wright, in his book, is reported to have accused a number of security officials of this most serious offence and, whatever our views of him may be, I believe we are obliged to take his words very seriously indeed. A failure to do so would make us uneasy about the future of our democratic form of government. If it is true that there was a plot, the country should be told who was involved and they should be brought to account for their actions. No one, including the director general or anyone in the security system, is above the law.
I would stress that it would be quite wrong to prejudge the question of whether any security officers had planned to destabilise my right honourable friend's government. However, the accumulation of charge and accusation and the increasing list of names referred to by the noble Viscount appearing in the press from day to day make it essential, in my view, that this whole thing should be cleared up once and for all. With the greatest possible respect, I do not think that this Statement by the Prime Minister satisfies me. I therefore hope that the matter will be reconsidered—as I think it will have to be before long.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, this is a very important Statement and we are most grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating in full the Answer to the Private Notice Question by no less a person than the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and in connection with a statement made by an ex-Prime Minister relating to issues affecting another ex-Prime Minister.
The totality of these circumstances make it immensely important that we should get the right answer. From these Benches it is hardly necessary for me to say that we accept completely the integrity of and the total trust to be placed in the director general of the service. I repeat, my Lords, completely. What we have to deal with is another question. We have to deal with the question of whether these allegations, on whatever foundation they rest, will be dissipated satisfactorily without a full and independent external inquiry.
It is my view, and the view of my colleagues in the Alliance that that will not take place. We therefore urge the Government to hold an inquiry in the interests of the health and the morale of the service, and with a view to removing any doubt whatever about the inaccuracy of these allegations. I very much hope and believe that they can be removed. We take the view that it is essential for the protection of the 143 services and indeed for the protection of democracy that there must be a proper external inquiry as to the incidents involved.
For that reason we would support the suggestion made in another place that a senior judge should be appointed to head that inquiry after the fullest consultation. I am bound to add—I am sorry to take up your Lordships' time—that if we are concerned with expelling all doubts whatsoever in the public mind, it is essential that the fullest consultation should take place before such a judge is appointed so that he can be seen to have the confidence of our people. We want this removed once and for all.
Questions would also arise as to setting up machinery with regard to the future of the services. Perhaps this is not the appropriate occasion, in view of the Prime Minister's surprising judgment—I hope I may be permitted to say that in my view it was an error of judgment—to consider that fully. However, I hope that I may add one further suggestion and ask the Leader of the House whether he is aware that we feel the morale of the service, which has suffered considerable blows recently, will be helped and restored if they find an ally to whom they can turn and to whom they can explain their difficulties, perhaps in the form of a committee of chosen Privy Councillors who could be relied upon to listen (and only to listen) and to present a report which would not include any detail whatever of what they had heard. Without such an ally and such encouragement, I fear that the morale of the service may not adequately recover.
So I am bound to support what has been said by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in this House; that further consideration should be given to this most serious matter in order to reach the same conclusion that every person in this House wants to reach: that there is nothing whatever in these allegations.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, if I may say so to the noble Lord, I fully appreciate that he wishes to question me, but I think it right that I should answer first, in the normal form of this House, the noble Lords who have spoken from the two Front Benches.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for their very strong confidence in the Director General of the Security Service. I think we should all start from the extremely important premise that both of them were prepared to accept immediately the total integrity of the Director General of the Security Service. I am very grateful to them for what they have said.
Therefore, it is important to look at everything that has been said subsequently against the background of the conclusions reached by the Director General of the Security Service. His conclusions were perfectly clear and set out very fully in the Statement: that he had found in extensive investigations in the service no evidence of any plot or conspiracy against Lord Wilson or his government. Those are important statements from someone whose integrity both noble Lords have fully endorsed. So I would start from that point.
144 Despite his confidence in the director general, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, feels that it is still important that further bolstering, if that is the right word, of that position is necessary in the interests of the morale of the services. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, suggests that further investigation should be made to confirm basically what were the views of the Director General of the Security Service.
I have to point out that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, having had the benefit, as the Prime Minister of the day has, of a report from the director general, has come to the same conclusion as the right honourable gentleman the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth came to when he was Prime Minister—that no further investigation is necessary. Both Prime Ministers have had the benefit of evidence from the Director General of the Security Service, in whom both noble Lords have trust. That is a very important factor and one that I must put before the House.
So far as any comments in Mr. Wright's book are concerned, I think the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will realise, as I am advised, that it would be totally improper for me to make comment on anything which concerns that particular legal action. Although I understand it would be perfectly in order to do so, I think it would be wrong for a Member of the Government so to do, and I will not take that point.
I note the views expressed by the two noble Lords and of course I shall report them to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, but I have to come back to what I have said very plainly—that, as in 1977, as the right honourable gentleman the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth decided that no further inquiry was necessary, so my right honourable friend the Prime Minister decided today. I hope the House will see that there is a certain logic and clear continuity in the views of both my right honourable friend and the right honourable gentleman the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, whose integrity in these matters I know all noble Lords would wholly accept. Bearing in mind that they have both had the great responsibility of being the Prime Minister of the day, I think that conclusion on both their parts is something of great importance for this House to understand.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, the House will recognise that I have a rather special personal interest in this matter. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement, but what he has said is that the security service has investigated itself and given itself a clean bill of health. In no way do I impugn the integrity of the director general, but I find that totally unacceptable.
It will surprise noble Lords to hear that I have not heard a word from the Director General of the Security Service. He knows about the allegations concerning myself. Why has he not asked to see me or to see the documents which I have? There has been no word from him in this investigation. I find that absolutely unacceptable.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and with the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that there must be an adequate inquiry of some kind which has power to 145 send for persons and papers, including, may I say, police records, which are extremely important in this matter—to send for them and require their presence. If nobody else will do it I hope that a Select Committee of the other place, or perhaps a joint Select Committee, will do it. But I must tell the noble Viscount, for whom I have enormous respect, that I am not going to let this matter drop and nor will my friends. We shall continue pressing day in day out until it is investigated thoroughly.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, it would be quite improper for me to comment on the personal position of the noble Lord, which he has set before the House. He will be the first to appreciate that when these matters were investigated in 1977 it was the view of his then Prime Minister, the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, that there was nothing in the various allegations. I understand from what he has said, and I have to accept it, that that does not satisfy him. Clearly it is not for me to pursue that matter further. I can only say that I regret the understandable feelings that the noble Lord has and I shall certainly see that his views are passed to the appropriate quarter.
I do not think it is possible for me to go further than to state my belief in what the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said on that occasion about these allegations and many others, which has been confirmed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister today.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Diamond, said that we should have an inquiry to clear up the doubts. Having watched governments in this place for the last 36 years, I am convinced that if an inquiry were set up now it would add to and exaggerate the doubts. It is not possible for an inquiry to clear away the slurs in that way in view of the categorical statements made today by the Prime Minister and by the right honourable Gentleman the Prime Minister in 1977.
If ever there was a time when Members of the two Houses of Parliament should be prepared to accept the authenticity and objectivity of statements from the Dispatch Box this is it. Damage to the morale of people at home and of our allies abroad could be immense, to a point which can hardly be exaggerated, and to have an inquiry now would confirm the doubts which have been expressed by Mr. Wright, who has gone back on his undertaking not to disclose these matters. To take that risk now would be dangerous and wrong.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I note what my noble friend has said. In accordance with the position that I have taken so far I think that it would be appropriate if I did not comment further on what he said. Above all I do not think it is for me to seek to second-guess not one Prime Minister but two.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, can the noble Viscount answer the specific point that has been made by my noble friend Lord Glenamara? How can an inquiry be considered deep and widespread if it has not been given an opportunity to question the noble Lord, who has been mentioned in these matters?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I can only tell the noble Lord that I said that I shall pass on the point that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, to those who are most nearly responsible, and I shall do so.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, the noble Viscount is being ingenuous. The right honourable Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has made it perfectly clear both in statements and today in another place that he regards the inquiry of 1977 as reflecting a situation that is quite different from the one today and that further evidence has come to light which needs investigation.
It is quite ingenuous to put together the Statement made by the right honourable Member who was Prime Minister at that time in 1977 and the Statement that has been drawn out from the Prime Minister and the noble Viscount by the statement of the right honourable Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. The noble Viscount has not said what the Government intend to do now. Surely if the Government have any regard for the morale of the security services they will recognise that no matter what they do there are newspapers in this and other countries that will dribble out the information in the book of Peter Wright, whether it is false or true. What will the Government do about that constant dribble of information?
The Statement mentions the honourable Member for Blackpool, who in 1977 commented on an article in the Observer and matters that were public knowledge. Do the Government now intend to try to stop the public from having information about what is contained in Peter Wright's book? If they are, then they are doing a grave disservice to the security services which they now profess to be safeguarding.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, the noble Lord considers that I am being ingenuous in repeating the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and associating with it the statements made by the right honourable Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth at that time. I do not at all accept that 1 am being ingenuous.
Equally I do not think that it would be right for me to proceed down the road to which the noble Lord wishes to direct me. First of all, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, I have made clear that I think it would be wrong for me to comment on any of the matters described in Mr. Wright's book and the case that is taking place in Australia. I hold very strongly to that.
So far as concerns other statements being dribbled out in the press, I note what the noble Lord has said but my right honourable friend has made perfectly clear—indeed, so did the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Diamond—that she has complete confidence in what the Director General of the Security Services says. If one has such complete confidence and believes that that is right I think that one can accept, as the noble Lord says, that statements in the press are likely to drip out—I think that was the term he used.
If that is what the press want to do, they will do it whether or not one has an inquiry, and they will still do it even after there has been an inquiry. The noble Lord 147 and everyone else knows it. There comes a time when one has to decide whether something is right or wrong. My right honourable friend has made her position very clear.
Since noble Lords have made their representations to me, I think it is right for me to say that I shall bring to the attention of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the views that have been expressed in your Lordships' House. It is my duty to do that and I shall do it. I believe that the House will recognise that I am in the position of repeating a Statement and therefore that I must report to the person who made it initially. Of course I shall do that but I am not prepared to be pushed down the road indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, when he says that information may be dribbled out in the press. I am one of those people who, had I gone down that road during my 30 years in public life, certainly should not be here today.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that the Statement vindicating the conduct of officers of the security services tends to support rather than quash the numerous allegations that have been made against named people that they are security risks? I think that it tends to increase fears about the vulnerability of No. 10 to the intelligence services of foreign governments during this period. I am not now speaking about a conspiracy against the Prime Minister, but is there not a need to clear up these apprehensions and to draw lessons from them to make sure that such a thing does not happen in the future?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I think I can only say that those who have a complete belief in the integrity of the director general have to take into account the advice he has given to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that he has found no evidence of any truth in the allegations. The Statement says:He has given me his personal assurance that the stories are false".I must ask the noble Lord to consider that.
My right honourable friend says:In particular he has advised me that all the security services officers who have been interviewed have categorically denied that they were involved in, or were aware of, any activities or plans to undermine Lord Wilson and his Government when Lord Wilson was Prime Minister".If one believes in the integrity and indeed the strength of the director general of the security services, at least one must take account of the comments that he has made.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, does the noble Viscount accept that so much depends on the integrity of the leader of the services? During the time that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House was the distinguished Home Secretary of this country he established inquiries many times about difficulties arising within police forces in this country. That did not signify that he was questioning the integrity of the chief constables of those forces. A chief constable would make initial inquiries and then an independent chief constable or his representative would be brought in to examine the charges. Is there not a complete analogy with that case?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I do not think it is a direct analogy. Whether I was right or wrong when I did that, I have to say that some of the people concerned questioned whether I was questioning their integrity.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, can the noble Viscount clear up one point that appears to be puzzling some of us? Who asked the director general of the securities services to conduct this inquiry? Did he do it as a result of a request from the Prime Minister or did he do it on his own account?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, there is no question that in view of the various allegations that were made the director general of the security services thought that that was right and proper and I know he conducted this inquiry entirely on his own account. Obviously he realised that he would have to report to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the many allegations that were coming forward.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, does the noble Viscount recognise that we are not talking about the confidence of the noble Lords, Lord Diamond and Lord Cledwyn, in the integrity of the director of the security services? The events of the past few months and years have led to a grave lack of confidence in the security services felt by. the public at large. Does he recognise that the old saw about justice not only being done but being seen to be done applies in this case, and can he tell us—as he repeated in the Statement—that there are no grounds for lack of confidence in the competence of the security services? If so, how was it possible that they employed Mr. Wright?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I simply say to the noble Lord that taking it from the general position of all those who have expressed confidence in the director general, I have considerable confidence in the security services of this country, and so do a very large number of people in this country. If the noble Lord or anybody else were to say that because they found a mistake made by some organisation or some individual they did not have confidence in that organisation or individual over a broad field, there would be very few things in this world in which one would have confidence.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that there are many noble Lords on this side of the House who find this Statement not only entirely satisfactory but a welcome relief?