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Telephone Conversations (Interception)

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

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Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton 12:00 am, 6th June 1957

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what circumstances he authorised the police to supply the Bar Council, in connection with a disciplinary matter affecting a barrister, with transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations in the London area.

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

The material in question was obtained under the authority of a warrant of the Secretary of State and related to the case of a notorious and self-confessed criminal. It was disclosed to the Bar Council in response to a request from the Council for assistance in inquiries which they were making into complaints about the professional conduct of a particular barrister.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

Is it not a monstrous state of affairs that a telephone conversation between a barrister and his instructing solicitor should be intercepted, transcribed and transmitted to the Bar Council and to the benchers of Lincoln's Inn by someone acting under the authority of the Home Secretary? Are we now living in a police State?

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

The answer to the last part of the question is that the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the Secretary of State of the day only acts in this way when he realises that the public interest necessitates such action. I will give an undertaking to the House that this action will never be used except in the interests of public order. I would like to add that it is of the highest importance that persons concerned in the administration of justice should not be associated with criminals in their criminal activities. Because of these considerations, it was thought right to assist the Bar Council in their investigations of allegations of this nature.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

Would the Home Secretary not agree that it is, to say the least, extremely unusual for the product of police inquiries, whether by this method or any other, to be made available to persons other than prosecuting authorities? Is not this a principle of general application, and can the right hon. Gentleman be much more precise than he has been as to the circumstances in which he is apparently prepared personally to authorise the transmission and use of police information to unofficial bodies?

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

No, Sir, I am not prepared to go into detail in this matter, which derives from the Prerogative, and which is a power that I should exercise at my discretion.

Hon. Members:

Oh.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby

Is the Home Secretary referring to the right to intercept telephone calls or the right to transmit official information to outside bodies? The second point has nothing to do with the Prerogative so far as I am aware.

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

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. I was referring to his first point. On the second point, the circumstances of this case made this action desirable.

Hon. Members:

Why?

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Has it not been a custom of our country connected with liberty that communications, even between criminals and their lawyers, should be specially privileged and not put in evidence, and is it not rather dangerous to invade that principle in this way? Is it not very unusual and new?

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

I think it would be wrong if anyone under-estimated the importance of this question or of the answers I have given, but I cannot carry the matter any further today because I consider that the circumstances of this case justify the action that was taken.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I am sure the Home Secretary will appreciate that this is a matter which is causing a great deal of concern. Can he say whether there is any precedent for information of this kind being divulged to an unofficial body such as the Bar Council? Will he, if he cannot make a statement today, make a further statement tomorrow before we adjourn for the Whitsun Recess?

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

Naturally I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but I do not think I should have anything to add to what I have said today.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my first point about whether there was any precedent for action of this kind being taken.

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

I would not be able to say whether there was an actual precedent in relation to the Bar Council, but I am aware of precedents for action of this kind in dealing with criminal cases. I would have to investigate whether there was an actual precedent of this kind.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

May I press the right hon. Gentleman, since this is a matter of great importance? The House will understand if he asks for a little more time before making a fuller statement on the whole situation, but in view of the Whitsun Recess I ask him whether he cannot give us an undertaking to make a statement tomorrow before we adjourn?

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

I have already said, as I should rightly do, that I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's request, but I could not give any undertaking before I had considered the matter further.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the earliest possible Motion for the Adjournment of the House.