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Universities (Security)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1957.

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Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall 12:00 am, 6th June 1957

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what changes or extensions have been made during the last twelve months in the arrangements for checking teachers and students in universities for security purposes.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what inquiries are made with his authority to ascertain the political views and activities of university students, other than students applying for employment upon secret work.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what approaches have been made in the last six months, by persons under his authority, to the staffs of universities asking them to report on political activities within the universities.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) on 28th May, special inquiries are made, at the universities where appropriate, about the reliability of Government staff to be employed on exceptionally secret work. Apart from these special inquiries, investigations have also to be undertaken in the universities as elsewhere from time to time to protect the security of the State. It would not be in the public interest to disclose the nature of the arrangements made to carry out these investigations, but I can say that no significant changes or extensions have been made in the last twelve months.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

May I ask the Home Secretary this question? Whilst 'the need for checking formally, through tutors, students applying for secret jobs is generally accepted, the belief that there may be on the staff unidentified persons who are passing on information to M.I.5 about their colleagues, or about students, is bound to poison the atmosphere of a university, and in view of that fact, will the right hon. Gentleman look into the evidence which is now available from that angle, as well as the security angle, to see whether he cannot allay the real anxieties which now exist in many university circles?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think that there is natural anxiety that there should be a system which works but does not prevent the liberty of the students from being fully enjoyed. I should like to assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there is no need to exaggerate the position. I have simply informed the House that we are following the practice which was approved by the Conference of Privy Councillors, which, the House will remember, concluded that there was nothing organically wrong or unsound about the Government's security arrangements. So far as I can see, there have been no alterations of a marked nature since that date. Being myself particularly closely associated with the universities, I think I can assure the House that there is no abuse in this matter.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent the Report of the Conference of Privy Councillors. I am sure he is aware that it did not go into this aspect of the problem at all and did not consider the detailed arrangements for security in universities.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman himself gave useful service in this connection, but the Conference approved the general outline of our arrangements, and, as I said in my answer, the arrangements have to be applied wherever they are necessary, whether it be in the universities or elsewhere. The undertaking which I can now give is that this matter will be very closely watched by myself as the guardian of private liberty.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the further assurance that he accepts that universities are in a rather special position, fortunately—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because the political activities of students should be taken very much less seriously than the political activities of more adult people, and also because it is particularly important that students—

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

—should not be spied on by people either on the staff or in the student body? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept it that universities are a very special type of community?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think we are all aware that universities have a certain licence of liberty and speech, and that without that they would not be healthy. At the same time, there are general considerations affecting the security of the State, which were revealed, subject to what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) says, in the Report of the Conference of Privy Councillors, and these general considerations must apply all round in the State wherever it may be.