Rented Homes Campaign Pamphlet (Distribution)

Government Departments – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1958.

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Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley 12:00 am, 12th November 1958

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on an allegation made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) in the debate on 5th November.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that facilities of Government Departments had been made available to assist the circulation of a pamphlet entitled, "A Nation of Council Tenantry", which was recently issued by a private organisation called the Rented Homes Campaign. I immediately asked Sir Norman Brook, as Head of the Civil Service, to hold an inquiry into the matter. I received his report yesterday. For the convenience of the House, I have arranged for it to be presented as a White Paper. Copies will be available in the Vote Office this afternoon.

The facts established by the report can be briefly summarised. Some time in the summer Mr. Harold Symon, a former civil servant who served as an Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, asked an officer in the Press section of his old Department whether he could be supplied with the mailing list used by that section for sending out official material to journals, institutions and individuals interested in housing questions. He told this official that he was revising his own mailing list which he kept for the general purposes of the Association of Land and Property Owners, of which he was the chief executive. On that basis the information was supplied to him.

For technical reasons explained in the report the material was partly in the form of a duplicated list and partly in the form of a set of pre-addressed economy labels. Subsequently, Mr. Symon allowed this material to be made available to the organisers of the Rented Homes Campaign, of whose council he was a member, for the purpose of compiling a list of addresses to which copies of this pamphlet could be sent in connection with a Press conference held on 18th September.

When the time came for the pamphlets to be issued one of the employees of the Rented Homes Campaign, in order to save time, thought that there would be no harm in addressing some of the envelopes containing the pamphlet by sticking on labels taken from this set after first cutting off the top portion containing the words "On Her Majesty's Service". The total number of envelopes addressed in this way did not exceed 100, and this number certainly included the two to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention in the debate on 5th November.

Perhaps I should add, in view of statements in the Press, that the total number of copies of this pamphlet bought by Government Departments was seven, and none of these has been sent outside. I should also add that the present Ministry of Health is not concerned in any way in this affair.

The facts set out in the report show that no one in the public service made any official facilities available with the conscious purpose of assisting the distribution of this pamphlet. The officer in the Press section of the Ministry of Housing acted unwisely in acceding to Mr. Symon's request without reference to higher authority; and he has been formally reprimanded. Mr. Symon's conduct is also open to criticism, for he was less than frank in failing to disclose the special addition to the purpose for which he wished to obtain this information. Moreover, as a former civil servant, he might have been expected to be more scrupulous about the use to which these labels were put after they came into his possession.

This inquiry has brought to light the fact that no general guidance has ever been issued to Departments on the extent to which information contained in mailing lists compiled for official purposes can properly be made available to outside bodies and that no uniform practice existed. I hope to arrange for a circular to be sent out to all Departments on this matter both as to the principles and as to the procedure to be followed.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The Prime Minister's statement shows that my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was abundantly justified in bringing this matter to the attention of the House and the Government. Indeed, the Government should be most grateful to him for disclosing what is evidently a weakness hitherto not discovered in the arrangements in the Civil Service, because although it may be true that no civil servant consciously assisted this organisation it is evident from the Prime Minister's statement that the officer concerned did supply a mailing list to Mr. Symon for the benefit of the Association of Land and Property Owners. It seems to me doubtful whether that was at all proper.

I am glad that we have had this inquiry. We shall study the White Paper with care and attention. I will put only two questions to the Prime Minister at this stage. Will he please be extremely careful, in the circular it is proposed to send out to Departments on this matter, to ensure that only in exceptional circumstances should official mailing lists be available to outside bodies? Secondly, is it not desirable that a clearer understanding should be reached about ex-civil servants and the facilities that may be made available to them in their old Department?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I am afraid that it will be a little time before these instructions are sent, because the matter is not quite as simple as might appear at first sight. Departments, and I think that it is generally quite a good thing, do give a great deal of help to a large number of organisations in this and in other ways and I do not want, simply because of this incident, to destroy all these facilities. For instance, the Ministry of Labour supplies the T.U.C. with very detailed information about wages councils.

In the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which I know very well, we used to do this. A lot of help is given to an organisation called the Town Planning Institute, and I think that in the Home Office and other Departments there is a general agreement to give help, including mailing lists, to a variety of organisations. Therefore, I do not want to make a sweeping decision that it is never to be done. What we have to do is to define categories which are ruled out altogether, and procedure by which an officer in any doubt should seek the head of his Department or the Minister for a ruling. We might do quite a lot of unnecessary harm if we make too sweeping a decision.

It is, of course, a fact that what civil servants may or may not do after retirement is a present laid down in an Order of, I think, 1937, which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) probably knows, is chiefly designed to control the acceptance of employment with an outside undertaking which has contractual relationship with the Government. That was the main purpose of that Order which arose at that time. I will certainly ask the authorities to advise me whether amendment of these rules, regulating acceptance of outside appointment after retirement, is required.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

May I ask, first, that the Prime Minister will see that this 1937 circular is looked at with a view to revision and being brought up to date? As to the mailing list, I think that the proposed circular should be made available to hon. Members either through the OFFICIAL REPORT Or by being placed in the Library, so that we may know exactly what the position is.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. I will try to put new instructions when they have been worked out, but I must ask for a little time because I have been told that this is quite a tricky thing. They will either be published in HANSARD or be placed in the Library. I would also point out the rather special position of the Stationery Office, which supplies a great deal of this information to trade bodies and others on payment and which, again, ought probably to be protected.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that there is not to be any resignation over this affair? Do we understand that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who has Ministerial responsibility which cannot be pinned on the Civil Service or even on a former civil servant, is to stay? Besides, would it not be a popular proceeding on the other side of the House if some Ministers were dismissed, in view of the number of candidates available?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I should like, if I may, to pay a tribute to this junior officer, whom I recall very well as an efficient and hard-working Press officer. He has received a formal reprimand because the administrative head of the Department thought it right, but it was an indiscretion and I very much hope, and I think that the House will hope, that it will not stand in his way in the future. It was a mistake that was made and the House will realise the circumstances in which a junior officer might well make one.

As to the Minister, although he is responsible for his Department, there is no question of his having to resign because a small thing goes wrong in it. His responsibility is to put it right, and it will be put right. Had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick or the Daily Herald raised the matter with the Minister in the first place, then inquiry would have been immediately held internally and the matter could have been put right. I do not know why they refused to send it to the Department when they were asked to do so. I can hazard a guess, but perhaps I had better keep it to myself.

Mr. Dugdale:

Will the right hon. Gentleman compare this case with the case of Crichel Down, where another civil servant was accused of having done something not nearly as improper as this and the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) had the courage to resign?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

There is really no analogy between the two cases. This is a case of a very junior officer, rung up by a man whom he had known and respected as his superior in the past, committing an indiscretion. The other was a case of very high officers on a matter of large public policy.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

In view of these admitted improprieties, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman three questions? First, does not the junior Press officer seem to have been a person who had in his possession or control a document or information which he had obtained owing to his position as a person who held office under Her Majesty, and did he not communicate that document or information to someone to whom he was not authorised to communicate it and to someone to whom it was not in the interest of the State his duty to communicate it?

Secondly, did not Mr. Symon receive that document or information knowing that it was communicated to him in contravention of the Official Secrets Act and being unable to prove that the communication was contrary to his desire—because he asked for the document or information in question? In these circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of one or two prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act and let the House know the result of his consideration?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Of course, I take note of the questions which have been asked me, but I must point out that the hon. and learned Member talks as if this information was like the design of a weapon, or a great secret. It is only a list of newspapers, journals and of other people such as are compiled in publishing offices and newspaper offices throughout the country. What he did, though it was quite wrong, he did to save himself the trouble of making it up himself.

Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Smethwick

May we please have the envelopes back?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I will consider that, but in view of the very serious attitude taken by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), perhaps they will have to be exhibited.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the Government's view that the law should be administered as it is, in the terms of it, and not according to some other considerations which are dealt with in quite separate parts of that particular Act?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making rather heavy weather of this. I, for my part, regret the indiscretion of this officer, but I would be very sorry if this were a permanent bar to his work and life in the Civil Service.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

I hope that the Prime Minister will bear in mind, in this difficult question of Mr. Symon turning gamekeeper into poacher, that there are two aspects of this matter. There is not only the question of the compatibility of the appointment, but there is also the ability of the person concerned to take an objective, public-spirited attitude, as I am sure the Leader of the Opposition will know in his change after the war from the control of the film industry in one direction to the other side, that of the industry. No one would suggest that there was anything wrong, because in his case the spirit of public service was operating.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Could the Prime Minister tell us the terms of the stern official reprimand, whether it was administered by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and whether there was a special vote of confidence in Lord Poole over it?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. As the hon. Gentleman should know, it is not the duty of a Minister in charge of a Department to issue a reprimand to a civil servant. That is the duty of the official head of the Department.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

On a point of order. Would it be in order, Mr. Speaker, for an hon. Member to ask whether you will receive envelopes that have been sent out with Conservative Party propaganda in them, and with a Ministry of Education stamp on them, which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) possesses at this moment and which are concrete evidence that the Ministry of Education also is involved? Could we have these envelopes exhibited in the House?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order, order. This seems to me to be raising an entirely new matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Order.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. There is no Question before the House. I allowed the statement to be made by the Prime Minister, and supplementary questions relevant to it. Now the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) has raised an entirely different question. That must take its course at the proper time. This is not the time for it. There is other business before the House.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

On a point of order, Sir. I was prepared to ask a question relevant to the Prime Minister's statement, in view of the fact that it was reported to Sir Norman Brook that I have in my possession such a document as was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), a Tory Central Office Press release notice being sent out in an official Ministry of Education envelope. I would have thought that would be something which would make the Prime Minister treat this matter seriously.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Mr. Speaker, since this matter has, through the machinery of a point of order, been given this additional publicity, perhaps I might be allowed to be in order in dealing with it. This allegation is made—

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you are now allowing the Prime Minister to give a reply following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), do I assume that we shall have another round of questions on this matter? Some of us have been rising in our places. Naturally, we bow to your decision, but are we starting all over again and, if so, shall we have an opportunity of saying a word on this point?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order, order. I must deal with the first point of order. This new matter was introduced by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) under the guise of a point of order—

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

On a point of order—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I must ask the hon. Member to allow me to deal with one point of order at a time.

The hon. Member for Leek rose to a point of order and, of course, I had to listen to what he had to say because I thought that it might have been a point of order. Another allegation was made under the guise of that point of order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) confirmed that allegation, also on a point of order. Whatever may be the exact order of the matter, justice demands, if there is information on the other side. that it should be given.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

On a point of procedure, Sir. In view of the fact that apparently the Prime Minister is now to be allowed to make a statement at leisure on an allegation made, ought not the allegation itself to be made at similar leisure?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to do what the House as a whole thinks best. I thought it hard that an allegation should be made in this way and no reply made to it. If, however, it would meet your views, and allow the House to get on with its business, if the hon. Gentleman likes to put a Private Notice Question to me tomorrow I shall be happy to do my best to answer it.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I shall be pleased to do That, Mr. Speaker. I was only hoping that I could have caught your eye earlier to ask my question.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I am trying to be fair to both sides in this matter.