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Telephone Communications (Interception)

Oral Answers to Questions — Railways – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1957.

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Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton 12:00 am, 31st July 1957

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now state when the Privy Councillors' report on telephone tapping will be published.

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

I have been asked to reply.

I am not in a position to make any statement today.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

That means that we shall not get any statement for many months. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance, first, that the report of the Privy Councillors, when it is presented, will not be too savagely censored by the Prime Minister, and, secondly, that it will be published, if necessary, during the Recess and not held up until the House reassembles?

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

I can give no assurance until I see the report and my right hon. Friend sees it, but it is certainly the intention of the Prime Minister to make known all that can be disclosed consistent with the public interest. There is no question of savage censoring.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Prime Minister giving the House an assurance that the decision about what should be published would be left to the Privy Councillors themselves? Will he confer with his right hon. Friend and find out what the position is? Might I also ask him whether, assuming that the report is published during the Recess, the Government will find time for a debate in the first week after we resume?

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

The latter point, I think, should be discussed through the usual channels, which we might do quite conveniently very soon so that we are able to consider debating this matter at the earliest possible opportunity, if necessary, after our return. With regard to the former point, the interests of the Privy Councillors are, of course, of paramount importance in publishing the document. We must be satisfied that they are satisfied with what is published, and we must also be satisfied that what is published is in the national interest.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The right hon. Gentleman is really evading my question. I asked him whether he will confirm that the Prime Minister told the House that it will be left to the Privy Councillors themselves, with a full sense of responsibility, to decide what to publish in the report?

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

The right hon. Gentleman has asked me to confer with my right hon. Friend, which I will willingly do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Confirm."] I will both confer and confirm with my right hon. Friend. I cannot divest Her Majesty's Government of all interest in what is published, because of the national interest, nor should I divest the Privy Councillors of the responsibility of publishing what they think is right.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that if there is to be any change from the statement about the matter already made by the Prime Minister it will be announced to the House before we go away for the Recess?

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

The conference and confirmation which I am to have with my right hon. Friend may well reveal the best result, which can then be disclosed to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why there has been so much delay in coming to a conclusion on this apparently very simple matter? What is wrong with the Privy Councillors, with very great respect to them? Why is there all this hesitation in coming to a decision? In view of the delay and because we are going on holiday, or shall at least be in recess for three months, may we have an assurance that telephone tapping will be suspended during the Recess?

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

The answer to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is. "No, Sir". In answer to the earlier part, I think the Privy Councillors have been extremely busy. They were appointed on 29th June, and as far as I know they have made excellent progress with their work. I cannot say anything beyond that.