Debate on the Address

Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1962.

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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30th October]:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:— Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Ait ken.]

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Before I propose the Question, it is probably convenient that I should now say that for the subject matter of debate on Monday I have selected the Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. and hon. Members.

Question again proposed.

11.8 a.m.

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

As you have previously announced, Mr. Speaker, the debate today is to be one covering many general topics and there are two that I should like to raise, one extremely briefly, and the other at rather greater length.

The first is concerned with an omission from the Gracious Speech, namely, that there is no reference whatever to any legislation to make it an offence to incite to racial hatred in this country. This is something to which we attach a great deal of importance on our side of the House. I quite realise that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence will not be able to reply to this particular matter, but I hope that before the debate is over a Minister will tell us what are the intentions of the Government in this respect. I do not expect an answer from him unless he wants to give it, but before the debate is over we should like an answer about it.

I turn to the matter that I mainly want to raise, namely, the Vassall case, the official secrets trial. This raises matters of the gravest concern—matters that have done great and grievous harm to the nation. I say this with emphasis at the beginning, because there are signs that the Government have been trying to play down the importance of this case. There is a good deal of evidence of this, some of it in the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty in another place on Wednesday.

On the damage that Vassall did to the State by his spying activities, the First Lord had this to say on 31st October: … he"—that is, Vassall—removed, photographed and disclosed certain classified documents which passed through his hands in the course of his duties. This, according to the First Lord, was the sum total—some classified documents, a certain number—of the damage done by Vassall to the State.

However, at the trial the Lord Chief Justice used very different language. He said: It was quite clear that the information passed over was of a highly secret character and capable of doing great harm to the country. This is very different language from that used by the First Lord.

The First Lord went on in his statement to refer to the period when Vassall was in the then Civil Lord's office. The First Lord said this: … although as a junior Minister and a member of the Board of Admiralty, the Civil Lord would deal with a certain amount of secret material, the volume of this coming into his office in the ordinary way was relatively small. At the trial very different language was used The Attorney-General said: In July, 1957, he was transferred to the office of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. About 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the documents to which he had access were of the highest importance. Then there is the curious fact that none of the four counts on which he was charged at his trial referred to the period when he was in the office of the Civil Lord. They referred to other periods of his activities. It may be that there is some technical explanation why no reference was made in the counts to this period, but to other periods of Vassall's activities as a spy. On the face of it, it certainly looks a little odd. We want an explanation of why the counts did not refer to that period, but I will come back to this point.

Another piece of evidence of the Government trying to play down this very important case is the extraordinary haste with which the Prime Minister appointed the Committee of civil servants. He announced this within an hour or so of the end of a trial which lasted only one day. In other words, the entire Committee must have been fixed up before the trial started, before the actual facts which were disclosed at the trial were known to the public. This act by the Prime Minister has been very generally and widely regarded as an attempt to play down this vital and damaging case. I will come back to the question whether this is the right kind of inquiry. I am talking now of the extraordinary speed with which the Prime Minister set up this rather odd Committee of civil servants. When it is considered that this is the third case of a major breach of security in twenty months and that two of these now concern the Admiralty, it is extraordinary that the case is being played down in this way.

In his statement in another place the First Lord said this of Vassall himself: My Lords, the work this man was doing was within his sphere ‖ He was doing nothing outside the scope of what he was supposed to do. I find this most extraordinary and disquieting. Was it really within the scope of a £14 a week clerical assistant to handle top-secret documents, to have such trust confided in him and in such a way that he could move them about, take them home, and bring them back to the office? Is it really the policy and practice of the Admiralty to employ such low-paid people to do such vital work?

This is what the First Lord told us. I find this the most disturbing part of his statement, that this apparently is a common thing. Fourteen pounds a week clerical assistants must be handling top-secret documents—

Photo of Mr David Williams Mr David Williams , Neath

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House, but this man was getting £900 a year gross income, not £700 a year.

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

I am going by what was disclosed at the trial. At any rate, for quite a large part of his six years he was a £14 a week clerk. Just towards the end I think that he was earning something over £800, but for most of the six years he was a clerical assistant earning about £14 a week.

At any rate, even granted what the hon. Gentleman says, is he happy that a person of this status on this pay should be trusted in sudh a way that he can handle top-secret documents apparently with complete freedom? Is this the practice of the Admiralty? This is one of the worst things that has yet been disclosed about its attitude to security.

The First Lord also said this in his statement about the blame for what had happened: No blame can be attached to anybody for the existence … of an individual who was willing to become a spy … The real issue of blame, if there is to be blame, is whether he should have been caught sooner …"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 31st October, 1962; Vol. 244, cc. 29–34.] The question whether he should have been caught sooner is very important, and I will return to it later.

But there is a vital prior question which the First Lord did not ask himself. It is a question which we ask and press upon the Government. It is certainly true that no one is to blame if there is someone in a Department who is willing to spy. That is something one cannot control, but can only discover. The prior question is how this man was able to carry out his intention to spy. This is the question the First Lord did not ask. It is one of the central questions. It looks on the facts that we have as if Vassall was able to carry out his willingness to spy only because he was picked out continuously and in a most extraordinary way for tasks well above his status, well above his salary, which gave him free access to top-secret documents.

What sort of man was it who was picked out continuously in this rather extraordinary way? It seems that there was almost a compulsion in the Admiralty to make this man a personal assistant on all possible occasions to extremely highly placed people. This was a man who could easily have been discovered to be a homosexual. This was a man who was living ostentatiously above his means, extravagantly above his means. Whether or not he was a £14 a week clerk at the end, he was so through a great deal of the time. He had a flat in Dolphin Square. He was a member of the Bath Club. He was known to take two or three rather expensive holidays abroad a year. He did not conceal these. He showed the pictures round the office.

I understand that in the peak year of his activity—1957–58—about £3,000 was paid into his bank account, leaving out of account all that (he was paid in cash, because he received his payment in cash and it was not all paid into his account. All this was tax-free money. The gross income this would have represented must have been absolutely enormous.

This man not only aroused no suspicion in spite of this behaviour, but was actually continuously put into the positions of most extraordinary trust. The record is hair-raising. From July, 1956, to May, 1957, he was in the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty and he was made personal assistant to the Deputy-Director. Thus we have the fact that a major spy was personal assistant to the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence. The Attorney-General said at the trial that whilst he was personal assistant he had access to information likely to be most dangerous to this country if passed to an enemy. Of course, it was passed to an enemy.

In May, 1957, Vassall was transferred to the office of the then Civil Lord, now the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He remained in that office as long as the Civil Lord remained in office, down to October, 1959. He was there from May, 1957, to October, 1959. Amongst his other activities apparently was that he was a courier taking top-secret documents to the hon. Gentleman's house in Scotland.

I want to ask one or two questions in connection with this. First, is it common that secret documents are sent to junior Ministers? Is this a common practice of the Government? It is a little disturbing to think that this very weekend top secret documents may be shuttling about the country to junior Ministers. If they have to deal with top-secret documents, they should come to the documents, and not the documents to them. I am talking now about junior Ministers. If this is a practice, it should be looked into and stopped. It may have been an exceptional thing in this case, but if it is the general practice it is very alarming.

Secondly, did Vassall have, or did he not, a key to the box in which he was carrying these top-secret documents? If he had a key, he could have opened the box the night before in his flat and photographed documents and then taken them next morning to Scotland. In any case, if he did have a key how did he get it? Who allowed him to have a key? Did he steal it, or was he authorised to use it? In this connection, what right had he in the office to handle secret documents? Was he responsible for locking some of them up, putting them in a safe, therefore with the possibility of extracting them when he wanted? These are very cogent questions.

In October, 1959, the then Civil Lord left office and the First Lord assumed office in the same month. From then on the First Lord must bear the proper Ministerial responsibility.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

The present First Lord assumed office a year later.

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

I am sorry. He bears responsibility from that time in 1960. In October, 1959, when the Civil Lord left office, Vassall was moved to the Military Branch of the Admiralty. I understand, but must be corrected if I am wrong, that the Military Branch is a sort of clearing office for dealing with top secrets of all three Service Departments, in this case Vassall would have had access not only to Admiralty documents of the highest importance, but also, if this is true, to top-secret documents of the three Services.

Part of the time he was personal assistant to the Head of Military Branch. The Attorney-General said at the trial that as personal assistant and while he was personal assistant he had access to "the most vital information". The extent to which he had access to this vital information is shown by what was found in his flat when he was arrested on 12th September. There were 140 film exposures from 17 separate secret documents dated between 4th July and 3rd September. The Director of Naval Security, giving evidence in the committal proceedings before the magistrates, said: All were secret documents the disclosure of which would be a grave danger to the State. During the last two years of Vassall's activities there were two major breaches of security and two major inquiries into security—the Romer Committee and the Radcliffe Committee—both of which made scathing criticism of security procedures in the Admiralty. I will just quote one passage from the Romer Committee: The Committee consider, however, that, apart altogether from the incidents in 1956, the Admiralty are to blame for the manner in which they discharged their responsibilities for security …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1961; Vol. 642, c. 217.] I doubt whether there has ever been a sharper condemnation of a Service Department in a public document than that. I can well understand that the First Lord offered his resignation when the Romer Committee Report was published. What I cannot understand is why the Prime Minister refused to accept it. The Prime Minister has a curious attitude to the 'important doctrine of Ministerial responsibility.

Despite the strictures of the Romer Committee and the less strong but nonetheless strong strictures of the Radcliffe Committee, it does not look as if the Admiralty, during the last two years, was applying the recommendations and procedures that were thought and assumed to be established.

I should like to ask the Minister of Defence whether positive vetting was applied to Vassall. If not, why not, because he was handling top-secret documents continuously or at very frequent intervals over these years? If it was applied, why did it not disclose something of his extremely suspicious way of life? One needs an answer one way or the other. I do not know which would be the worst answer—if it was applied and disclosed nothing, or if it was not applied to a man who was handling the top secrets, the highest secrets, of the State.

One lesson that can be drawn from this unhappy case is that "positive vetting" must include some inquiry into the expenditure and income of those people who are to handle top-secret documents. There must, of course, be great safeguards there; no disclosure to anyone outside, or to the Inland Revenue, or anything like that. It is now evident that if there had been such an inquiry both Houghton and Vassall would have been laid very early by the heels, and we must take that into account. As I say, we must have very great safeguards in such inquiry, but we cannot have the highest secrets of the State being extracted and handed over to Russia in this way.

I come now to what I regard as perhaps the most important aspect of this matter, and one which the Prime Minister treats very casually—the question of Ministerial responsibility. The Committee of three civil servants is a wholly wrong sort of committee for dealing with this case. I am not in the slightest degree questioning the integrity of these gentlemen—that is beyond question—but I say that such a Committee cannot, by its very nature, do the job that it is to do.

It will have to review the actions of very high civil servants, and very high military and naval officers. This is not an easy thing for civil servants to do, and it is certainly impossible chat such a Committee can make it appear that justice is being done. People will not believe that a Committee of civil servants, looking at the possible responsibility of very high officials—their colleagues—and high Service officers, had done the job properly, even if they had—and it would be very difficult for them to do it properly.

Even harder will it be for them to investigate Ministerial responsibility. Civil servants not only cannot do this, but should not be asked to do this. It is wholly allien to our entire system of Parliamentary government that civil servants can ask Ministers about their responsibility, and report on that responsibility. This cannot and should not be done.

In this case, Ministers are bound to be judged, whichever way the judgment goes. They may all be exonerated, but they are bound to be judged in this case. We must, therefore, have an independent inquiry of a kind that will satisfy Parliament and the public that a really independent inquiry is being made into this whole case, including the aspect of Ministerial responsibility. We want a committee with the sort of powers that a committee would have under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act. I do not say that that Act should necessarily be invoked, but the committee should have that kind of power and independence.

I fail to see why there were independent inquiries in the two previous cases while in this one, which does involve ministerial responsibility, there is to be a Civil Service inquiry. The only principle on which the Prime Minister can be acting is that the more closely Ministerial responsibility is involved the less authoritative is the committee he sets up. That is the principle that appears to emerge from the history of the three committees.

Whatever sort of inquiry is set up, and we are very insistent on an independent inquiry, it is extremely important that a proper report shall be made. We quite understand that strict security matters cannot be disclosed—we do not ask for that—but there are two things which must be disclosed in the report of any inquiry. One is, and I think that I speak for hon. Members on both sides here, a clear statement as to whether or not the Admiralty fell down on its security arrangements and, secondly, a clear report on the responsibility of any Ministers involved.

Various Ministers are possibly involved in varying degree. I shall start, if I may, with the then Civil Lord. I do not want to go at all into the question of personal relationships with a minor civil servant—that does not seem to me to be relevant to this matter. I want to deal solely with the security aspect. I want to set out as fairly as I can some facts, as I regard them—and I shall be corrected if I am wrong, because we have not access to everything—and make one or two comments.

Among the facts, we have the following. First, Vassall was in the then Civil Lord's Office acting as a major spy. Secondly, he was given special and, I think, unusual access to secret documents. There was, therefore, a special obligation on the man in charge of the office to assure himself of the integrity of this man Vassall.

The third fact is that Vassall was known personally to the Minister rather more closely than through normal office contacts. Vassall was well enough known to him for the Minister to conclude that Vassall had "a screw loose" which is what I understand the Minister to have said. My comment on that is that it is really quite fantastic that a Minister responsible for his own office should leave a man of whom he had this opinion that he had "a screw loose"— or whatever was said—in continuous access to top-secret documents. There is something here that is hard to defend. And they are top-secret documents; the trial disclosed that over and over again. I know that the Government try to say that they were only classified, but the Lord Chief Justice and the Attorney-General talked of top-secret documents and documents of the highest importance to the State, and it cannot be questioned.

Another fact is that on one occasion the hon. Gentleman visited Vassall's flat in Dolphin Square. This was really a very strange dwelling for a clerical assistant in the Admiralty. He was paying £509 a year rent and rates, and even if he were earning £900 gross it was a fairly high proportion of his income. I understand that in his flat Vassall had a £400 Queen Anne wardrobe and a £150 Persian carpet. And there were other signs of ostentatious living.

Here, by way of comment, I would ask whether the Civil Lord reported on the obvious discrepancy between this man's expenditure and his known income from the Admiralty. If the Civil Lord did report, what action, if any, was taken? Apparently none was taken, because the man went on spying for another three years. If the Civil Lord did not report the discrepancy, I can only say that if the hon. Gentleman had shown the slightest aouteness of mind the State's secrets would have been preserved for three or three and a half years thereafter, during which time they were, in fact, being violated and handed over to Russia. The hon. Gentleman either did report it, in which case other people are to blame, or he did not report it, in which case he really showed an extraordinary lack of perspicacity for a Minister of the Crown who was himself responsible for parts of the secrets of State.

The Minister of Defence, who, I understand, will reply, has some responsibility, too, otherwise he would not be replying. He has some responsibility for the security of the three Services—and as I understand that in Military Branch the secrets of the other Services are involved, besides those of the Admiralty, he has a direct responsibility. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have direct responsibilities for the maintenance of the security of the State, as the Prime Minister recently told us here. I do not think that even the most charitable would say that these high responsibilities have been very satisfactorily carried during the last twenty months.

There is here a responsibility that must come home. One cannot just go on talking about responsibility and then acting as though it does not exist. There have been three major breaches to security in twenty months in Services in which the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and, of course, the three Service Ministers, have responsibility—and responsibility means responsibility. None of them can just say "I am responsible," and then take none of the responsibility. It is for this reason that Ministers are involved in varying degree and, at any rate, their actions and degree of responsibility must be gone into.

It is because of that that we demand that there shall be an independent inquiry, capable of examining the responsibility of the highest Ministers of the Crown and capable of convincing public opinion that they have done so with independence. They must have the capability, and the evident capability, of looking into the responsibility of the First Lord. In the First Lord's term of office there have been two major breaches of security in his Department. I must say that at this moment it is doubtful whether, under his administration, the Admiralty has many secrets left that are worth protecting.

There have been two major breaches over less than two years in which high secrets of the Admiralty have been violated and disclosed. This has happened during the term of office of the First Lord—

Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle

Would it not be just as well also to remind the House that two spies were caught in that period?

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

I imagine that the hon. Member has read the Romer Committee Report, which makes it perfectly clear that defects in the security organisation in the Admiralty led to Houghton not being caught much earlier. That may well turn out to be the case in the Vassall incident. Of course, we are glad when a spy is caught, and, of course, there is a question whether he should have been caught earlier, but we must be worried when men like Houghton, Miss Gee and Vassall had apparently free access to the most important documents—access so free that they could take them away and bring them back. It must disturb us. Of course spies have been caught, and, if there are other spies, we pray that they will be caught very quickly.

I would say that the First Lord's term of office has been one of the most disastrous periods of office of any First Lord in the history of the Navy. Terrible things have been happening. It is no good laughing them off or writing them down. We must face the fact that the Admiralty has lost a very large number of extremely important secrets of State, and this has happened in the term of office of the present First Lord.

After the Portland case, the First Lord, with great propriety, offered his resignation to the Prime Minister, who declined it. The Prime Minister, as I say, has his own standards of Ministerial responsibility. In the statement made by the First Lord on Wednesday in another place, he made it clear at the end that if, in fact, the report of an inquiry is adverse to the Admiralty—and I fear that it is only too probable on the known facts—he would resign. That is all to his credit, and I hope that on this occasion he will not pay any attention whatever to any attempts the Prime Minister may make to dissuade him from what would then be a creditable and proper course.

But I hope that he will do something else which seems to me to belong to propriety in this matter. I hope that he will press upon the Prime Minister himself the need for an independent kind of inquiry, an inquiry of such a kind that it can go thoroughly into the question of his own and the Civil Lord's responsibility—and not only able to do that, but to be of such independence that no one can question that it was an independent inquiry. That, I think, is extremely important.

I am sure that the First Lord, who has acted with propriety on both occasions, will go right through with it, and insist with the Prime Minister that there must be an independent inquiry whose judgment, in the end, cannot be questioned on grounds of its status, because it will not be, as the present Committee will be, in a position of subordination to Ministers. The independent inquiry must be independent of Ministers.

I hope that the Minister of Defence, who is possibly a little implicated in this through his responsibilities, will add his persuasion to the Prime Minister, and that we can have an early assurance that this unhappy decision to appoint this wrong kind of committee will be reversed and that we will have a proper, independent committee of inquiry.

11.40 a.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has put these matters, which I do not seek to minimise, because I think they are grave matters, in a speech of moderation, as we would have expected from him. I will try in the same spirit to reply to the points which he made, and to elaborate to the House the considerations which we have in mind in the action which we have taken and contemplate.

A traitor has been caught and tried and punished, and that is something which is not a matter for despair, but a matter for satisfaction on both sides of the House of Commons, whatever view we take about these other matters. The questions which the night hon. Gentleman raises are: should he have been caught earlier? Were the security procedures which are laid down followed out properly, and, perhaps, are they good enough? These are questions which it is perfectly fair to ask and also right for me to seek to answer.

Parallel with these grave matters and rather over-shadowing them in some sections of the Press has been a great deal of comment about the position of the then Civil Lord of the Admiralty, my hon. Friend who is now Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. If I may, I should like to deal with that aspect quite separately and distinctly. It is true that it overlaps, but it is quite separate and distinct from the major problem, which is the question of Admiralty security, and I want to deal with that major problem first.

Were the procedures that are laid down followed? If they were followed, why did they fail? I accept at once that the security in the Admiralty is the responsibility ultimately of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I would remind the House of what he said. I shall come to what soot of a Committee it is in a moment. He said: If the Committee should find that there was culpable negligence in the application of the Government's security system within my Department during my period of office as First Lord, and particularly since the Romer and Radcliffe Committees reported, then I shall naturally accept full ministerial responsibility." [OFFICIAL REPORT,House of Lords, 31st October, 1962; cc. 30 and 31.] Those of us who know the First Lord will recognise that that is the statement which we would expect from the First Lord in circumstances of this kind. That is the responsibility which he accepts.

May I give the facts of the case, which can be put very briefly, as I understand them? Vassall joined the Admiralty at the age of 17 in 1941 as a temporary clerk. In 1943, he was called up for the R.A.F., and he was demobilised, after serving in the R.A.F., in 1947. He then returned to the Admiralty. In 1954 he was posted to Moscow, and various accounts of his life there have appeared. In 1956 he returned to the Admiralty, and then he held three posts as a clerk in three different departments—in the Naval Intelligence Division, where he was a clerk in the office of the Deputy Director, in the Civil Lord's Office, where he was a clerk in a private office of about four people, and we are all familiar with these private offices.

May I say, in passing, that the reason—this question has been asked and I may as well deal with it now—why there was no count in the prosecution was that there was no evidence of that particular period, but this does not mean that he was not selling documents in that period. There was, in fact, either on his confession or on evidence we had available, no evidence for that period. From 1959 to 1962, he was a clerk in the Military Branch. Throughout all that period he had all the appropriate security clearances.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

May I finish what I am about to say, and then anybody can ask me about it? It is always better to finish the point one is on.

Through all that time, he had all the appropriate security clearances. He was positively vetted. I will come in a moment to the implications of that, but this is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, during that period, he was—I am giving the facts—a trusted employee of the Admiralty, and, because he had had these security clearances, he had access to the papers that were in the office. He would not have been in the office if he had not had the security clearances, but, once there, there was no question of being able to deny to a clerk in an office—as all of us know very well who have ever served in one—access to the papers in the office. If one did not trust the man, one would not have him there.

During that period, as the First Lord said the other day and as the Attorney-General said, he abstracted and photographed and sold a number of classified documents. I am not debating at this moment the full value of them. No one is going to under-estimate the seriousness of actions of that kind, but it is not a question of how secret or how less secret; if we have secret documents going out of the Admiralty it is a very grave matter indeed, and I certainly will not, and I am sure the First Lord will not, seek to minimise it.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to Vassall as being a clerk in the Department of Naval Intelligence, and, I think, in some other department later on. I am not referring to the Civil Lord; I am referring to the Miltary Branch. It has been said that he was personal assistant to the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, and personal assistant to the head of the branch. Could the Minister clear up this point, because, after all, the term"personal assistant" carries with it a status and, perhaps, access to information of a very different kind from that of an ordinary clerk in a large department?

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

Further to that point, what is the procedure when a man enters the service of a Service Department in a private capacity in a private office at a very early age? Is promotion automatic without security clearance at each level? If that is so, then that is where the leak is and where the breach is?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

These are rather separate questions. May I take that last question first? I am not going into the question of promotion in the Civil Service. In fact, this man has stayed virtually at the same level the whole way through. That is no dqubt for reasons of his own in some way, too, because this was where he was getting the access to these documents.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Yes, he did, but in all this period he was virtually doing the same work, which was the work of a clerk. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is right in saying that, in the case of the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, he was ranked as personal assistant, but I am informed that the type of job did not really vary very much.

These are the tasks which he carried out. The issues raised and the questions posed are—[Interruption]

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

May I suggest that while the Minister is answering one interjection, it is very tiresome to have another?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

The questions raised are: should he have been caught? Should the security clearances either have identified him as a spy, or, as I think the right hon. Gentleman more shrewdly put it, should they at least have put up a red light which would have enabled someone to start inquiries?

I want to deal with this absolutely frankly, because it is in all our interests that we should get these matters right. The facts surrounding this matter are the very subject which these three civil servants are asked to inquire into. I do not want to prejudge their report. I shall come on to the question whether they are the right people to do it in a moment, but first I want to make one or two observations about this situation in view of what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman and published widely in the Press.

The first thing I want to say is that men would not be employed as spies if catching them was a relatively easy matter. There has got to be a good chance of getting away with it before any Power would employ a man in a capacity of this character, and the truth is that men over many years have been employed in many countries in these capacities and have got away with it. It is very easy to assume after they have been caught and after all the evidence has been produced, "How clever we would all have been if only we had been on the job of catching them." I say that all history indicates the contrary, that in fact it is very difficult to catch spies, and probably many more of them get away than are caught, and that goes for nearly every country in the world.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris , Aberavon

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when this man was last checked?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

He was checked in 1956 on his return from Moscow.

The second point—this is a point which the right hon. Gentleman put—is: why should a junior clerk have been entrusted with secret documents? The idea that somehow or another we can have a system in which junior clerks do not see secret documents is an illusion. It really is an illusion, and I would appeal to anyone in this House with experience of public life, who has ever served in any office, to agree that the idea that it is possible to have a junior clerk in an office who does not see as much as, and probably rather more than, the Minister is a complete illusion. Of course, he sees it all.

Nor would I accept for a moment—though I do not think the right hon. Gentleman really meant it—that loyalty amongst junior people who are paid £800 or £900 a year is a greater risk than with richer men. There is no evidence of this in the history of these unhappy matters. Rich and quite well-off men—I am not going to mention any names, but men high up—have been caught in these matters. To be a junior clerk does not necessarily make a man more of a risk. In any event, there is no method which will deny to junior men in an office access to secret documents. What we have to do is to get them the security clearances, and what we have to look at is the security system which gives them those clearances.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a salary of £800 or £900. In the court the salary was given as between £500 and £700. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether this man, during the period when he was, in practice, being employed as a personal assistant to the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, would still be rated financially only as a junior clerk and receiving that salary? Could we also be told what exactly it was?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I am not prepared to say whether it was £700 or £900. These facts will come out. For the purpose of my argument it is quite irrelevant All I am saying is that there are many junior clerks doing security work and they are security checked. This is something which is happening and must happen in any administrative system that we have.

The Press say—I do not think the right hon. Gentleman said it—why was not a known homosexual caught? Known to whom? This is what has been written. I ask: known to whom? It was not known to the right hon. Gentleman, nor to the First Lord of the Admiralty, nor to the Civil Lord. It was not known to anybody in the Admiralty or to the security service. It is very easy afterwards, when a man puts up homosexual tendencies as some sort of defence in some story of what happened to him while he was in Moscow, to say that it is possible to identify homosexuals by glancing at them. This is an illusion. A great deal of what has been written about this case is an illusion. It has been said that this man lived above his income in Dolphin Square. How many of us are not living above our incomes in various squares? One cannot say that because someone is living in Dolphin Square he is obviously getting his money from Moscow.

A great many rather uncertain points have been drawn into the debate, though I think the right hon. Gentleman, to do him credit, did not stress them too much, and I think very wisely. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this man was a spy and was not caught, and it is the task of security procedures to be able to probe below the surface, to find out things which are not obvious to other people, and this is what we have got to examine.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Please let me finish. This is a difficult subject, and I want to deal with it in a coherent way. These arrangements for security checks and the rest have just been re-examined. We have just had the most exhaustive examination of them. It is true that a great deal of what happened here is what might be called pre-Radoliffe. But, so far as security checks are concerned, there were only four months of Vassall in the post-Radcliffe period, and the fact that some of this was tightened up may have made some contribution to catching him. There are only four months post-Radcliffe, and there has been a close examination of this.

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

The Minister has just finished this point.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

No. As I say, these problems have been gone through in very great detail, and it is worth while recalling a few things that Radcliffe himself said, because they are relevant. They do not offer a solution, but they do pose a problem which confronts us all. May I refer the House to paragraph 62 of the Radcliffe Report—the White Paper—and here may I interpolate that a great deal of Radcliffe was not published. This is another problem with which one is faced in matters of this kind. The Report says in that paragraph: The inherent weakness in Positive Vetting, as we see it, is that the field enquiries only rarely throw up material which is ' hard' enough for any conclusive action to be founded upon them. This is the trouble. The essence of positive vetting is where two referees are appointed and they think there is not much against a man after people have made inquiries. But there is a limit to what we can expect to get out of positive vetting.

The right hon. Gentleman himself said, "How do they walk out with all these documents? Surely here is something Chat could easily be dealt with." Let us see what happened when a full inquiry was held by Lord Radcliffe, which we are urged to repeat. Let us see what was said about it when all the evidence was gone into, in paragraph 116: We considered all the obvious methods of detecting such practices "— that is the opportunity to take classified documents out of the office— —routine or snap checks, searches, either of the person or of bags, brief cases, &c. It is quite plain that they can never be wholly effective against a determined person"— and ex hypothesi spies are determined people— and to have even a likelihood of being effective they would be intolerable to those concerned. While it is possible that the chance of being searched would have some deterrent effect. it seems much more than possible that searches would be resented by the staff and would have a bad effect on staff relations. We should ourselves share their resentment and have concluded, therefore, that there is no workable procedure that we can recommend for the detection of unauthorised removal of classified documents. That is the answer to the point made by the right hon. Member for Smethwick. It is an almost unworkable system, and against that background we must ascertain the facts of this case.

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

Is the Minister proposing just to laugh off with flippancy the point about this man having been living above his means? Surely, in positive vetting, one of the few hard facts one can work on is that of a man who is living above the standard one would expect of him having regard to his remuneration?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

That seems all right, and, no doubt, if we were doing the positive vetting, we would be cleverer than anyone else, we might think. When a clergyman's son is seen doing a job, perhaps a little below his educational value, in the Admiralty, maybe as a clerk, and if he has a flat in Dolphin Square—which at that time was not the most expensive type of flat in London—that would not necessarily be a highly suspicious thing by itself.

I am not saying that positive vetting cannot be improved, but to say that because someone—and this after it is all over and after he has been found out—was living beyond his means is something conclusive of itself is not, on the Whole, a very powerful argument for saying that he should have been caught quite easily. All the facts concerned must be ascertained, and I have touched on only some of the facts of the case. There are many precedents for this. We have had Committees of the Privy Council, judges of the High Court, the Lord Chancellor and special tribunals for the purpose. I am bound to say that, in my judgment, by far the best way of proceeding here is to ask three top-level civil servants to look at the facts of this case, not as judges but just looking into the facts.

If one wants to make an examination of something which has happened in the administration system of Whitehall, there is a great deal to be said for putting the matter in the hands of three men who know something about the machine they are looking at. They can see not merely whether the letter of a particular requirement has been kept, but whether the spirit of it has been kept as well. They move and have their being in Whitehall. They understand exactly who is required to do what, and they have had responsibilities of this character themselves. They will find the facts and report them to the Prime Minister.

I consider that to be a good way of proceeding. The idea, particularly among anyone who knows these three gentlemen, that they are the kind of men who habitually pull their punches is a remarkable illusion. I have not the slightest doubt that the facts will be put forward by them without fear or favour to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has said that when the report is ready he will discuss it with the Leader of the Opposition. I am saying that my right hon. Friend is prepared to have such a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition. When that has taken place, my right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House, and only then shall we know the facts and be in a position properly to judge and discuss what further action, if any, should be taken.

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

Can the Minister say if he is prepared for these civil servants to inquire into the conduct and responsibilities of Ministers?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

We are prepared for these civil servants to find out the facts in a case of this kind. If that should affect Ministers that would not matter in the slightest. The first thing is to find the facts. The First Lord has made it plain that if the facts make it clear that the Admiralty made a mess, he will take the responsibility. But let us get the facts first of all, because only when we have received them shall we be able to discuss the matter in a lucid manner.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The Minister has referred to the intention of the Prime Minister, after the report is completed, to consult me. Is the Minister authorised to say that I shall have full access to this report? I cannot help saying that I think it was rather a pity in this case that the right hon. Gentleman did not consult me before the Committee was appointed.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I said that my right hon. Friend will be prepared to discuss the matter with the Leader of the Opposition. What type of discussion there will be is above my level. They must be entitled to discuss it between themselves—and it should be so—but what takes place will rather depend on the security aspects of the report. All I am entitled to say is that there will be a discussion, if the Leader of the Opposition wants one, before there is a statement to the House. The important thing is to get the facts presented and clear and then, when they are all presented and quite clear, we can decide what further steps, if any, we should take.

Photo of Mr Julian Snow Mr Julian Snow , Lichfield and Tamworth

Apart from the question of civil servants interrogating Ministers, is it not generally assumed that a certain professional amour propre exists in Service Departments which might militate against the efficiency of civil servants to carry out such an assignment? This is especially the case in the Admiralty, where there would appear to be a certain degree of equality between the political and professional aspects of the Board of Admiralty itself.

Mr. Thomeycroft:

Whatever feelings there may be about civil servants,Ministers or anyone else, these three extremely able and forthright men have been appointed to ascertain the facts. They will not be bothered about relations between one class and another. They will state the facts as they are. With regard to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, his only connection with this is that Vassal! was posted to his office—not at his request but just posted—some six months after he joined and was in a private office of four or five people.

I must say a word about Ministerial responsibility—what it is and what it is not. Ministerial responsibility for the head of a Department refers to anything that happens in that Department, whether it is an error or a disaster. We have all known examples of men who have had to take that responsibility although they may not have had absolute control over what happened. That is what Ministerial responsibility is. What it is not is this; it is not the job of a junior Minister, the Civil Lord or an Under-Secretary, to accept responsibility for the security side of the Department. To be completely truthful, if that were the case most of us in office would make a sorry mess indeed.

When one goes into a private office one is disposed to think that the people there are on one's side and one has a prejudice in favour of that private office. The clerks are there and they do the work with their associates. In fact, I have spent precious little time wondering what standard of living or type of private life is had by those with whom I have come into contact in these offices. The same applies to the question of loyalty. I have been only too grateful to have had them there and to have received their assistance. I am sure that everyone in office feels the same gratitude.

It is not the job of junior Ministers to be carrying out the security side. It is the responsibility of the head of the Department, and this, I think, is quite right. I may say that in no circumstances whatever would either I or the First Lord allow the responsibility for this event to be shuffled off on to the then Civil Lord.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

The Minister has been detailing to us what he considers to be Ministerial responsibility. Does that involve some responsibility for the custody of secret documents passed to the Minister?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

Passed to the Minister? I have not quite got the hon. and learned Member's point.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

I am referring to the responsibility for the custody of secret documents which are passed to the Minister involved.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

I am not quite clear what the hon. and learned Gentleman really means. Is he asking whether the Civil Lord is responsible for what goes on in his office? I think that it would be right for the Admiralty at any rate to be responsible for seeing that anybody who went into the private office had received a proper security clearance. If he had not, and if this fact emerged, it would be a serious matter and obviously one for criticism and disciplinary action. I would not say that the responsibility should go beyond that.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a junior Minister must be held responsible for the security of his own office?

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

It is no good putting the responsibility where it does not lie. Put it at the top. The responsibility for security in the Admiralty lies with the First Lord of the Admiralty. The responsibility of the Civil Lord is for works and labour, and if there is any impropriety in what he does, or omits to do, this would be open to criticism, but do not let us blur the position of what Ministerial responsibility is. The head of the Department is responsible for the security of the Department. A junior Minister cannot be held responsible for lots of other sections over which he has no control.

I pass from that to consider what special factors there are. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give the Committee any assistance for which it asks in this matter. He will give any facts and assistance which it is within his power to give.

Some wild charges have been made. All these matters will be gone into, but I ought to say something about one or two of them, particularly as they were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Smethwick. My hon. Friend and his wife went to Vassall's flat. They were there for twenty minutes, and their taxi was waiting outside. This was after the man's mother had died. My hon. Friend had been asked to visit this flat in Dolphin Square which Vassall had taken over, and eventually he went. This event has been reported in the Press as though there was something dreadful about it. I think that some restraint ought to be exercised in public comment on these matters.

Then it is said that at some stage my hon. Friend said, "I thought that the fellow had a screw loose". How often have hon. Members used that expression about other hon. Members? This phrase is not unheard of, and to say that a man has a screw loose does not mean that he is thought to be a traitor. It might be thought that if he worked harder he might get on better, but that is all.

Next, it is said that Vassall took these boxes to Scotland. Normally, they did not contain top-secret material. They normally contained documents dealing with works and labour. I think that there was one occasion when top-secret documents were enclosed in the box. Vassall took the boxes to my hon. Friend's house in Scotland and was invited to stay for lunch. What a terrible thing! This event has been built up in one of the papers to a weekend party of 30 people where his contacts were of immense value to him. I am sure that there is not one of us who, if a clerk arrived in Scotland, with the nearest village two miles away, would not have asked him to stay to lunch. It would be considered a bad thing if we did not ask him to lunch.

All these things will be gone into, but I hope that a little more restraint will be exercised in commenting publicly on them. I make no complaint about what was said by the right hon. Member for Smethwick. He was restrained and moderate, but, in view of the wide Press comment, it is right that I should make that point.

Photo of Mr Peter Thorneycroft Mr Peter Thorneycroft , Monmouth

He could have done. Normally he would not have done, but he had been security-cleared. He may have put the papers in the box, just as would anybody else who was security-cleared in the office. There is no evidence of which I know of the security procedures as laid down having been breached. The facts may disclose an opportunity for tightening up the procedures, but I warn hon. Members that opportunities for tightening up procedures will not be as popular as some hon. Members might imagine. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that we have had these things fully debated, and to tighten up security procedures might mean drastic inhibitions on the private lives of people.

The rôle of the Civil Lord in all this is minimal. Neither I nor the First Lord would wish to see responsibility in these matters shuffled off on to details concerned with character and whether Vassall had a post in the private office or not. People may comment that Vassall had friends above his social status, but these are not matters on which it is possible to charge a man for neglect of his duties. It would be far better to concentrate on what matters, which is security in the Admiralty. There will be the fullest investigation, and the facts will be presented to the Prime Minister without fear or favour, and then, after consultation with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, we can decide what is the best thing to be done.

12.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

I have a dual interest in this matter, the first being that I occupied the position of Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty for four years. I have naturally taken the trouble to ascertain whether Mr. Vassall was there at that time and what position he occupied. I find that he occupied a position under the Director of Airfields and Carrier Requirements, and that he was also employed in the naval law office. I might add that I did not see the gentleman while I was at the Admiralty. All this was before his visit to Moscow.

I also have an interest in this case because I was for some time a cypher officer, and I therefore saw something of security from the inside. If I might lighten the somewhat sombre proceedings, perhaps I might tell the House that a cypher is more easily compromised than a woman. A cypher has only to be able to be looked at and it is immediately compromised. The same applies to a great many secrets inside the Admiralty.

I should like to take up some of the points made by the Minister. First, may I deal with the question of the Civil Lord himself? Frankly, I agree with much that the Minister said. I do not think that this can be pinned on to the Civil Lord. A great deal of this talk about parties in Dolphin Square is very much exaggerated and I do not think that this should be pinned on him.

I think that the Minister of Defence rather underestimated the possibilities of the Civil Lord seeing secret documents. I saw an enormous number of them, but the question of seeing who is employed in the office and clearing them from a security point of view is not a matter for the Civil Lord or the private secretary. It is a matter for the officers who do the clearing. I am talking not about Ministerial responsibility but about personal responsibility. I do not think that the Civil Lord has a personal responsibility for clearing those who work in his office. He has a responsibility for seeing that they are competent, that they do the job, and that they are otherwise satisfactory, but the clearance of them from the security point of view is not his job.

I am a little curious about this gentleman who opened the door and showed in visitors and went in and out of the private office in this rather odd way. I left all that to my private secretary. I do not know how this man came to do the work normally done by a private secretary. I am also disturbed about these boxes being carried all over the place by this man. I agree that he had been vetted, but it is curious why these boxes had to be carried all over the place and why this man had a key to them which could get lost. I know that these documents have to be carried from place to place for Cabinet Ministers, but I am puzzled that this should happen with documents for the Civil Lord.

I do not know what the inquiry will show. It may show a lot of things, but I would not have thought that the Civil Lord was primarily responsible. Who, then, is responsible? In the first place, the thing really to be borne in mind is that the Admiralty is not just an institution. It is a collection of individuals, a collection of people. One cannot just say, "The Admiralty is responsible" in a general way. One has to pin the responsibility upon individual people who are responsible. Let us compare it with what happens in a ship. A ship is damaged. There has been an accident. There is no question of saying that nothing will happen about it. There is a full inquiry into who was responsible and what happened, and blame is attached to people—even, lately, to ratings. There is a court-martial and reprimands are given. The whole matter is gone into in great detail.

I think that this should be done in this case, and that the Admiralty will suffer in reputation if that is not done. It is most important to the Admiralty that there should be a complete examination, a complete discovery of who exactly was responsible.

What charges might there be? The Prime Minister said on 13th June, 1961: … the Board of Admiralty is taking steps … to review its internal organisation for implementing security policy in the light of the criticisms of the Romer Committee … — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1961; Vol. 642, c. 211.] He said they were taking steps. It may be said that it is as a result of those steps that Vassall has been caught, but it is a very serious thing that the Prime Minister said steps were being taken and yet a year afterwards this thing has happened and still we are told that no responsibility rests on the First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Prime Minister seems to have the utmost confidence in the First Lord. One cannot help comparing his position with the position of Lord Crathorne, who was guilty of one thing only, of doing something contrary to Conservative Party policy. It may have been a good thing or it may have been a bad thing, but it was nothing comparable to giving away secrets of State. He offered his resignation and it was at once accepted. The First Lord has offered his resignation and the Prime Minister has not accepted it. That seems to be a strange state of affairs indeed.

I come to the question of positive vetting, because this seems to me a most important aspect of this very serious business. I am not personally an authority on positive vetting. The Civil Lord does not have to deal with security, and, frankly, I do not know how positive vetting is carried out, but one thing has been brought out very clearly, and that is that it is no good only having it at the moment a man comes into the service; we have to have it all the time. Vassall may have been perfectly all right when he came in, but surely there should be some method through the security service by which it could have been found out that this man was not desirable after Moscow, because quite plainly he had become different after Moscow. Surely it should have been possible to know by positive vetting that he was a different man after Moscow. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Why was he different after Moscow? Because he was liable to blackmail afterwards. He was not liable to blackmail before. It should have been possible to find this out through the security system.

The Minister of Defence may be right about this. He said, "Of course, we all live above our incomes. Of course, naturally he may live above his income." Surely it is the duty of the people who are in charge of security, the positive "vets", to see that he may be living above his income and to find out about it, to see whether he has a private income, whether he has an income from another source altogether apart from the Admiralty, and a perfectly reputable-source. Surely it is their business to find out how the income comes.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Does my right hon. Friend suggest that there should be an elaborate means test?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

I do not suggest a means test, but I do think it ought to be known of a person entrusted with security who is 'living beyond his income—not just a little; but two or three times above his income—how it is he is doing so. Surely that is a matter for checking by security.

I turn to what I think much the most important question, the responsibility of Ministers. I have dealt with the question of the Civil Lord and I have said that I do not think he is primarily responsible, but I do think quite definitely that it is the responsibility of the First Lord of the Admiralty. There can be no doubt about that.

The Prime Minister said on 22nd June, 1961: I have come to the conclusion, in view of the fact that many Boards of Admiralty were concerned because a long period has gone by—? this was because of a previous leak— that it would not be wise to take out of his hands the tightening of the security arrangements. I think that he will do it well."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June 1961; Vol. 642, c. 1687.] It may be said, I suppose, that he has done it well, because Vassall has been caught now, but it seems to me to be not a thing which is satisfactory for the Admiralty that this should have happened over a year after all these other incidents. I saw in the newspapers that Vassall was caught because information was brought by a Russian. That does not necessarily prove that it was due to any improvements in the security arrangements in the Admiralty.

I would have thought, however, that the person who comes worst out of this must be the Prime Minister. Let us face it. The Prime Minister is responsible for security. He may not be responsible for detailed security, but he is responsible for overall security, and I would say that his reputation has been gravely tarnished by the series of incidents which have happened—the failure in security for which he is responsible as Prime Minister.

What future action can be taken? I would say that two things could be done. I speak without a detailed knowledge, obviously, of the facts. One cannot know all the facts in a case like this. However, in the first place I think there should he more security officers and that they should be better paid. The Prime Minister talked in April, 1962, a good deal about the difficulty of doing this, because he said we should find ourselves subject to a good deal of snooping—or words to that effect. He quoted the Radcliffe Report: In considering any additional security measures … we have reminded ourselves that security weaknesses … are part of the price that we pay for having a social and political system that men want to defend."—? [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1962; Vol. 657, c. 647.] That is all very well. Of course they are. But I am not suggesting that there should be greater powers given to these people. I am saying that they should have exactly the same powers but that there should be an adequate number of them and that they should be sufficiently highly paid to attract the best people to that particular work. There may be very good people there now. Of course there are, but if it is necessary to pay them more, they should be paid more, and I think there should be more of them for that work.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Is my right hon. Friend asking that we should spend considerably more money on the Secret Service?

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

Certainly, if necessary. I would much rather spend it on that than on a new battleship or a new aeroplane. I am not suggesting we should spend more on the total amount spent on defence—I know my hon. Friend's feelings on that—but what I say is that it is better spent on that than it is on certain measures of defence such as the purchase of large numbers of weapons, tanks, guns and all the rest of it, because we can have immense damage done if there is a leakage in the Secret Service.

Then I think we should seriously consider taking security out of the hands of the Prime Minister. I am not talking of this Prime Minister—I mean any Prime Minister of the country—and placing it as a definite responsibility on another senior Minister. I say that be-oause once an attack is made on the Prime Minister then quite plainly the whole of his party rally round him and the question becomes a question of whether the Government will stay in power—a question of confidence. It is, in short, difficult to remove a Prime Minister, but another senior Minister can be attacked and can, if necessary, be removed by the Prime Minister. We know how many senior Ministers were removed by the Prime Minister only a few months ago. That Minister could be responsible for security. Of course, the Prime Minister has to look at it, as he has to look at everything, taking an overall view, but the main responsibility for security should be transferred to another senior Minister who can be attacked in this House and called upon, if necessary, to resign, if he is guilty of any incompetence.

I hope that the Committee of inquiry will be a high-powered one. I do not think a committee of civil servants should be asked to judge the degree of responsibility of the Prime Minister. Obviously it is impossible for civil servants to do that. I am sure that those civil servants are fine, top rank civil servants, but they cannot pass judgment on Ministers. The Minister of Defence said that they would find out the facts and that the Prime Minister is to pass judgment. That is what we on this side do not think is right. We think the Committee should be capable of passing judgment, and I think that there is a strong case here which needs consideration.

12.32 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

There was a point in the observations by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) about the First Lord's responsibility in this matter where I think he left out a rather important fact. He drew attention to what the Prime Minister said in June last year, following the Romer Report, that action would be taken. Of course, that was perfectly correct, and the action which was taken was that the security system for the Admiralty itself was then set up by 'the First Lord, but the right hon. Gentleman went on to question why was it then that this man Vassall had not been picked up until September this year.

The right hon. Gentleman did not make this point, which he may have overlooked for the moment, that Vassall had suspended spying operations from the beginning of 1961 until May of this year. The Minister of Defence said that Vassall was picked up after four months of restarting the spying operations. Whether or not there was culpable negligence in that time we shall not know till the committee of inquiry has reported.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Where does the right hon. Gentleman get the fact that there was this suspension? It did not come out at the trial. We do not know. We did not get the documents.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

It did come out in the trial. No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman can refresh his memory on that.

Turning to the point of substance made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) in the strictures about the nature of the inquiry, for myself I feel that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence entirely met it, first because it is the right kind of committee of inquiry. It is essentially dealing with the facts, to discover whether the revised system of security, in the light of the Radcliffe Report and the Romer Report, has been working properly and conscientiously, and these senior civil servants are exactly, rightly equipped to do this. They are familiar with the whole ground and nobody can better report on the facts.

It is not for them to judge the degree of ministerial responsibility. They will simply report on the facts. I fee! that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides can accept that as the right way to check the facts of this case. It is then for senior Ministers and other Ministers involved to decide where the responsibility lies.

Considering the broad subject, I am sure that everyone will agree that, following the Radcliffe Report, there is no need for a further revision of the principles and policies of this matter. This is an admirable and authoritative Report dealing with every aspect of this subject with great lucidity. The right hon. Member for West Bromwich made the point that there should be a separate security department dealing with the whole question of Government security. The Radcliffe Committee examined that and, for what seemed to be cogent reasons to it, recommended that it was better that each Department should have its own security system. I should have thought that that was right because it brings home to a Department its own personal responsibilities.

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

I do not think that there should be a security department. I simply said that a particular Minister should have general oversight over security as the Lord President of the Council now has over a great many Departments.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I will not pursue the point. I do not want to take up more time than I have to.

We are all trying to do the same thing. We are trying to achieve a system which will reduce the security risks, on the one hand, and catch the spies, on the other. We must accept, however unpleasant it may be to do so—at any rate, we on this side, facing the realities, accept it—that spying will continue as long as the cold war continues, with its ferocious tensions.

One of the most unpleasant aspects of this case is the means used in Moscow to trap this wretched young man and to compromise him for the future. This shows the lengths to which these people will go to get someone into their power. Spying will go on, and, while whenever a spy is caught it is evidence that there has been a breakdown of the security system, particularly in regard to vetting, it is also fair to make the point that each time a spy is caught it is evidence of the successful working of the system.

I do not say for one moment that the people who have been discovered have not had far too long a run. We all know that they have and that the security system badly needed tightening up. But no one can read the Radoliffe Report, particularly what it says about positive vetting and defects of character, without realising the enormous difficulty of being sure enough to take action which is bound to blight a man's Civil Service career in order to take the necessary security measures.

This is a matter of great personal difficulty and concerns the liberty of the individual. I am sure that civil servants accept these heavy responsibilities, but we, as a House, know full well that we have been pressed to go further towards making these arrangements more and more severe by the sheer grim necessities of the case. We should not have dreamt of going as far as this ten or fifteen years ago before the present intensity of the cold war descended on us. These are the realities of the situation.

I wish to make one more point about Ministerial responsibilty. Of course, we all understand that a Minister is responsible for what happens in his Department. We realise that he is responsible for the inactions and actions of his civil servants, whether he knows about them or not, and that if a civil servant commits a fault which, in its outcome, disturbs and shakes public confidence it may well be his duty to resign. But we all know very well that many charges and attacks are made against Ministers. After all, this is part of the life and business of this House, and it is part of the duty of Her Majesty's Opposition to make these charges and attacks when there are anxieties and doubts about certain situations. But, in the nature of things, many of these attacks turn out to be not well founded. It does not mean that there was no justification for making them, but often they are not well founded.

It is a Minister's duty to put up with this continuous stream of attacks from the benches opposite and sometimes from these benches and from the public outside. This is the reality of Ministerial life. As I say, it is a Minister's duty to put up with these attacks and not to run away from them because his Department is under pressure. Certainly, he should not resign unless it is proved and established beyond doubt that he is responsible for what has happened. We all know that, but sometimes it is overlooked outside.

I make this point about this case with regard to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, I confess, is an old friend of mine. However much he values his high office, I know that he values infinitely more his personal honour and, as he has said, will not hesitate to resign if this inquiry proves that there has been culpable negligence during his period of office at the Admiralty. But it is only right to put the matter in this perspective, that, just as a Minister has a duty to do that, he also has a duty to stick to his post under pressure and not go unless the case against him is proved.

12.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) for having initiated this debate, because all of us share the concern which he feels, and which the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) has reflected, about the grave threat to the 'nation's security shown by cases like the Blake case, the Kiroger case, and now, the Vassall case. At the same time, I think that we should be equally concerned at the potential threat to individual liberty which these breaches of security tend to lead us towards.

I have some sympathy with the difficulty which the Government clearly find themselves in about striking the right balance between the needs of security and protecting the freedom of the men and women who work for Her Majesty's Administration. I have no strong view about the nature of the tribunal set up on this occasion; I confine my remarks on that to saying that I hope that it will report quickly and clearly and that positive action to minimise the threat to security which has been revealed will be taken. One of the things which alarms me about these repeated threats to security is that each time a new inquiry is constituted, recommendations are made which probably put many innocent people to a great deal of inconvenience and embarrassment and which may cause grave injustice to them.

I am a little apprehensive that the scope of our security procedures is tending to get wider and vaguer with each year that passes. The Radcliffe Report, for example, which was in some respects a more liberal document than the Report of the Privy Councillors which preceded it by five or six years, widens the scope of the security machinery. It directs special attention to trade union officials in the Civil Service, although I have not been able to discover any evidence that any trade union official has been involved in a breach of security during the last few years.

One of the outstanding features of the Vassall case is that, because he was prosecuted, he had the opportunity of being tried in court. Because he was tried in court he knew what the charges against him were. He had the oppor- tunity of having counsel to represent him and he had the advantage of the whole machinery of the judicial system to ensure that justice was done and that the rules of evidence were observed. The man or woman in the Civil Service who comes under suspicion for breaches of security is much less happily placed. The ordinary security suspect has not the protection which was afforded to Vassall in the courts of the country. A civil servant may be the victim of gossip, or malice. If he is transferred or dismissed from his post the charges against him are often of the vaguest kind and his only right of appeal is to the Tribunal of Three Advisers. When he appears before the tribunal the charge is not always explicit. He is not told the full evidence against him and he has no right to legal representation.

It is true that since the Radcliffe Report the Prime Minister has allowed a friend to speak for the accused man, but the friend is not allowed to know the nature of the charges. He is not allowed to remain during the questioning of the suspect and he can speak only at the beginning of the hearing. In fact, we get the semblance of representation without the reality of it. I believe that the procedure on these occasions is repugnant to natural justice and to the national traditions of our country. It places a premium on gossip and malice and constitutes a grave potential threat to civil liberty.

I wish to add only two comments on the Vassall case. First, I do not think that anyone suggests that a man or woman on a low salary scale is more liable to corruption or disloyalty than anyone else. But I think that men and women who have served in embassies abroad and who have become accustomed to a standard of living far above that to which they are normally accustomed at home may well be subjected to special temptations. I hope that the Government will consider giving rather more favourable consideration to men and women serving overseas and will help them when they return and have to face the conditions which operate in the country.

My second comment is this. We fully appreciate what the Minister of Defence said, that no one could have known that this man was a homosexual. But I am bound to say that if the House had been more courageous in its attitude to the Wolfenden Report it would have removed one of the gravest threats to security, namely, the power which the blackmailer has over the homosexual.

I turn to two other cases which, I think, involved the liberty of the individual. The first is the case of Dr. Soblen. I believe that the Home Secretary's attitude to the Soblen case was a lamentable display which must have embarrassed many hon. Members and which, I think, must have damaged our reputation abroad. The point that I put to the Government today is that what happened on that occasion was that the Home Secretary used his power to de-port in a way which amounted to extraditing Dr. Soblen for an offence which was not extraditable.

Whether Dr. Soblen was innocent or not is, I believe, quite beside the point. What is important is whether the Home Secretary made a use of his powers which was perfectly proper in law, but was, nevertheless, reprehensible in morality. I raise the question for this reason: the Extradition Act specifically includes safeguards against the use of the Act in any case involving a political offence, and political offences are specifically excluded from extradition treaties under the Act.

If the Act is invoked the person involved has to be brought before the court so that the court may determine that the alleged offence is not of a political character and that there is a prima facie proof of guilt. Thus, the Home Secretary's powers to extradite are hedged about with safeguards. But his power to deport, as The Times pointed out on 19th September, is virtually limitless. All he has to do in such a case is to make an Order under Article 20 (1, b) of the Aliens Order, 1953, which enables him to deport any alien if he … deems it to be conducive to the public good to do so. It is clear that the elaborate safeguards which surround extradition were circumvented on this occasion by the Home Secretary's use of the deportation procedure. I put very seriously the two suggestions which The Times made. The first is that the deportation procedure should once again be made subject to judicial control. I understand that that was the position before the Aliens Restriction Act, 1914. The second suggestion is that the deportation of an undesirable alien who is a fugitive should be ruled out so far as deportation to the country from which he is a fugitive is concerned. I believe that that is a point of natural justice to which the House should pay close attention.

The last aspect of the problem of civil liberty to which I draw attention is the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police. I ask the Government what are their intentions about that Report. I hope that, at some future date, we shall have an opportunity to discuss the wider implications of the Report-questions of the control of the police, of relations between the central Government, local government and the judiciary, of the answerability of chief constables, and of the need for reforming the police forces to equip them to deal with the problems of today. But at the moment I want to deal purely with the police and the private citizen.

I am very anxious, as I think the House will be, not to get this out of perspective. As a magistrate I watch the demeanour of the police with close attention, and I have a high regard for the efficiency and integrity of the force. Indeed, when I raised in the House a year ago the events which took place on 17th September 1961 in Trafalgar Square, when some terrible things were done, I specially paid tribute to the good temper and restraint of most of the constables involved.

However, we should be unwise to close our eyes to the widespread unrest which exists. The Royal Commission divided the witnesses before it into three groups. It said that some witnesses thought that relations between the police and the public had actually improved, another group thought that they were possibly slightly worse, and, as the Report went on to say, in paragraph 331: Yet a further group of witnesses submitted that there had been a significant decline, some even holding that the traditional standing of the police was in grave danger. We go on to discover that this group included the Scottish Police Federation, the Magistrates' Association, the Law Society, the Society of Labour Lawyers, the Inns of Court Conservative and Unionist Association, the Bow Group, the Institute of Journalists and the National Council for Civil Liberties. The National Council for Civil Liberties is referred to in paragraph 336, which says: The most severe expression of anxiety about relations between the police and the public came from the National Council for Civil Liberties. They declared that there was obviously something ' radically wrong' in those relations. This situation they attributed to a variety of causes, mostly within the competence of the police themselves to remove. These included what the witnesses regarded as irregular means of obtaining evidence, the use by the police of unnecessary violence, ineptitude in handling processions and in dealing with political and industrial demonstrations, and the absence of any independent means of redress against the police. That evidence was paralleled by a survey held by the Government's Social Survey. This showed that more than half the people interviewed accepted the suggestion that the police took bribes, employed unfair means of getting evidence, used unnecessary violence or gave false evidence. One point which I found extremely disquieting was that a survey of the police themselves showed that two-thirds of them thought that the public opinion of the police had changed for the worse, while one-third thought that police behaviour itself had deteriorated.

To deal with that situation the Royal Commission makes certain suggestions upon which I hope the Government will comment. It suggests, for example, that the decision to institute proceedings against a constable should always be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions and not by the constable's superior officer. Secondly, it suggests that police authorities should be liable for the tortious acts of police officers. Thirdly, it suggests a uniform method of recording complaints against the police.

These suggestions are satisfactory as far as they go, but there is no recommendation about reforming the position by which complaints against police officers are heard. These, as the Royal Commission says, … fall to be investigated entirely within the police force concerned. I regret the lack of a recommendation of that kind, because I believe that the present set-up is grossly unfair to the officers concerned and creates suspicion in the public mind.

Certainly, there is a good deal of uneasiness on this score. I want to quote from the Observer of last Sunday, describing a demonstration in London the previous day It said: After an hour of chanting and arrests (some of which were quite brutally carried out: seated demonstrators were seen being yanked from the ground by their hair) the cry went up To Grosvenor Square!'About 150 demonstrators broke into the square, but were quickly rounded up against the railings and there squeezed by six mounted and 100 foot police without being given much chance of retreating.There were a few more ugly incidents of police lifting demonstrators by the hair, throwing them on to the ground face downwards, and riding motor-cycles on to the pavement. The public has no means of knowing whether or not these accusations are true. I believe that when accusations of that kind are made against the police they should be the subject of inquiry by an independent tribunal. As I said on the occasion of the Trafalgar Square incident last year, on these occasions the police are in the dock and they cannot be both the judge and the jury at the same time.

I believe that it is in the interests of good relations between police and public that the Government should agree to setting up an independent tribunal to investigate matters of this kind, and I hope that we shall get a sympathetic reply from the Government Front Bench today.

12.59 p.m.

Photo of Captain John Litchfield Captain John Litchfield , Chelsea

The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) has raised a number of important topics outside the original subject of this debate, and I hope that he will forgive me if I return to the subject of the Vassall case. I hope that it will not be thought that I am moved by any vested loyalty to my old Service. This subject really refers less to naval affairs than to the Civil Service, although I have myself a strong personal interest in the case because I have held the office of Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, although some years before any of the dates now involved.

I must say, first, that I deplore some of the language which has been used, not only in this House but more particularly outside, about the First Lord and the Civil Lord of the time. The principle of Ministerial responsibilty is a vital and most important one to uphold. We have the same principle in the Navy in the responsibility of the captain of a ship for whatever goes on in the ship, whether it is bad or whether it is good, but it seems that in the matter of Ministerial responsibility in the Vassall case one should look at it with a factual eye.

We have the promise of a very responsible Committee of civil servants to investigate this case. I understand that its terms of reference are to investigate whether or not there was culpable negligence in the Admiralty. We also have the First Lord's assurance that if it is shown that there was culpable negligence in the Admiralty he will accept the fullest responsibility for it. I do not understand what complaint right hon. and hon. Members opposite can have about that procedure.

It is deplorable that there should be any suggestion that the First Lord or the Civil Lord have been in some way personally implicated in this sordid business. I hope that some of the expressions which have been used about the First Lord being personally involved in two spy cases will be removed by some better chosen words later. It is not established at this moment that there was, in fact, any culpable negligence in this case on the part of the Admiralty recently or at all.

What are the simple facts of this case? The first thing one should bear in mind is that the whole of this sordid affair sprang from the incident and the time at which this man Vassall was suborned in Moscow when serving on the Embassy staff. He was not serving in the Admiralty then, but as a member of the staff of the diplomatic mission in Moscow. He was not a Communist and there was never any question of his having Communist sympathies or affiliations. He was a homosexual or, in the words of the Radcliffe Report, he had "character defects".

In Moscow he lived in the small, and perhaps rather close, circle of junior members of 'the embassy staff, other members being mostly from the other Services or from the Foreign Service. One of the surprising things to me in this early part of the case is that apparently there was no suspicion among his contemporaries in Moscow of what was going on nor of his tastes and tendencies. This was not a naval responsibility, it was a Foreign Office responsibility in the embassy in Moscow.

Was there not a Foreign Office security officer in the embassy at that time? Were the younger members of the staff, when they joined the embassy or before, warned—even in those days in the pre-Radcliffe period—of these unpleasant possibilities? Were they not warned to be careful not to compromise themselves in any sort of way? When one's mind goes back one remembers that this was not, I am afraid, an altogether isolated incident in a British embassy abroad at that time.

Now the Admiralty has been attacked for appointing Vassall to the Naval Intelligence Division on his return from an Iron Curtain mission. The suggestion has been made, although not in this debate—it has at least been bandied about and, I believe, was mentioned in another place—that it is a mistake, an error of judgment, to appoint any official or officer to a post in London in which he would have access to highly classified information immediately after serving behind the Iron Curtain. That does not seem to be a very constructive suggestion.

There was nothing whatever against the man Vassall when he returned from Moscow. There was no adverse report about his private life, or his political tendencies, or his loyalties, or anything else. He had served for two or three years in Moscow. It seems that if one has a man one does not suspect, and he has just bean serving in the embassy in Moscow, one of the sensible places in which to put him is in the Naval Intelligence Division, if he belongs to the Admiralty, or some other intelligence service if he belongs somewhere else. Is it really suggested that the British intelligence service in London should be staffed by people who have had no experience behind the Iron Curtain?

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who, I see, agrees with me, would not press that particular charge. One really must conduct the affairs of Whitehall on the assumption that officials are loyal and not on the assumption that they may not be loyal, unless one has a clear reason to be doubtful about it. Where would be the morale—which is just as important in Government offices, particularly among junior members, if not more so owing to the routine nature of their work compared with that in the Services—if they were regarded as suspected persons once they return from behind the Iron Curtain? I do not think that that is a line of thought which can be profitably pursued.

Nonetheless, there is no room for complacency in this case—none at all. I do not think there is any after listening to my right hon. Friend's speech. As a former D.D.N.I., I was appalled to think what might have got out if there had been a traitor in that office. I believe, although I am not certain and I am not going to ask for confirmation, that the damage that was done as a result of the removal of documents from the Naval Intelligence Division was not as serious as it may have been in another place because, perhaps, in the Naval Intelligence Division there is, naturally, a particularly serious regard for security.

The Leader of the Opposition questioned my right hon. Friend about the duties and position of the so-called personal assistant to the D.D.N.I. I can answer from my personal experience in an earlier period. There is someone who is called a personal assistant. He is a clerical officer, a trusted clerical officer, and he acts virtually as a superior secretary to the D.D.N.I., but, of course, he has access to the most alarmingly classified documents. I think, however, in most cases, at any rate in the Naval Intelligence Division, the more senior members of the staff personally handle the more highly classified documents in their possession and do not push them out to be filed by someone else but put them in their own safes. I have no doubt that that was done in this case.

This part of the story refers to a period long before the present First Lord assumed responsibility, before the Romer and Radcliffe Committees made their recommendations, and before security in the Admiralty was tightened up to its present degree. It does, however, directly raise the problems of security clearance and the physical security of documents inside the Admiralty more recently. I should like to say something about this from personal experience. I am sure that the House will readily recognise that there must be a great many persons, and a great many junior persons, who must necessarily have access to very highly secret documents and papers.

I doubt whether anyone who has not served in one of the Service Ministries or the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office has any real appreciation of the physical volume and, indeed, weight of highly-classified documents, books and goodness knows what else which circulate among officials in those Ministries. It is not just a matter of a very secret letter that should be burned after being read; it is a matter of things which have almost to be carted around in a wheelbarrow.

Ministers and members of the Board of Admiralty and senior officials and officers in the Admiralty do not type their own letters, they do not file, check, carry around documents and do all the other matters of paper discipline themselves. Behind all that there is the need for expeditious dealing with documents. There really is no case to suggest that it is at all easy to limit very secret documents to a very small number of people.

In the case that we are debating now, however, there were two particular failures. First, there was the failure to prevent Vassall taking papers outside the Admiralty into his home and photographing them there. Secondly, there was the failure to detect Vassall's character defects. I would like to say a word on those two points. There are, I believe, about 9,000 persons who are entering and leaving the Admiralty while serving there every day, and probably a great many more who come in from other places. There are also casual visitors. It would be a matter of extreme difficulty to search all these persons. It is no good just trying, you have to be sure, if you are to do this thing at all, because to try to do it and not to be thorough would be merely to create false confidence. You have to be sure of preventing any one of the 200 or 300 who have access to very secret papers from having anything on their person when they go out. If they were spies, these things would presumably be secreted with some skill. I cannot imagine a more difficult administrative job to have to do. While being very careful about these papers, I do not think it a fair charge against the Admiralty if, unhappily, failure occurred through the treachery of one person. It would be very difficult to prevent with certainty.

Secondly, the question of the detection of character defects is far more difficult than, for instance, the detection of subversive or Communist affiliations and sympathies, because the detection of character defects of this kind of homosexuality can only be discovered by very prolonged observations of a person's private life and circumstances. I am told, rightly or wrongly—I do not know whether it is true or not—that to be sure of doing a job of that difficult and unpleasant kind it would require about 20 observers to maintain a complete surveillance of one subject. I leave it to the House as to how big a staff it would be necessary to employ on this work. I have, however, a constructive suggestion about this question of surveillance.

Of course, all this sort of thing can be done—if the House of Commons orders it anything can be done provided that we have the means—and we have today the means—but the House and those who have the responsibility on the other side for pressing these matters must really recognise what it would mean. Of course these things can be done. They are done in Moscow today and we know what life is like out there. But it raises the whole question of the degree of intrusion into people's private affairs which can be tolerated in this country and in our type of society. If it must be done, then I suppose it can be done, but I suggest that it is a very serious thing to put forward as a serious suggestion on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition.

The plain fact is, as it has been frequently pointed out in these reports, that without the most drastic changes in our whole attitude towards liberty and the private life of citizens in this country there cannot be any absolute certainty of detecting a spy if an apparently loyal official is prepared to sell his country. We have to face the fact that that is one of the prices we pay, and, in my opinion, shall continue to pay for the freedom and democracy in which we desire to live.

I have said once, and I say again, that I have no wish to be in any way complacent about this. It is a most appalling affair. There is no doubt about that at all. The really disturbing thought in my mind -and this is a far more controversial matter—is, are we really being over-tolerant in Whitehall generally towards character defects? This is not a matter which affects only the Admiralty, but which affects the whole Civil Service and its attitude towards this kind of business. Are we being over-tolerant about the employment of officials with known character defects in the Government service?

Hon. Members who have studied this White Paper on Security Procedure in the Public Service will know that the Government have accepted a recommend-dation that although persons who are found to have character defects are no lcnger to be employed in duties which would require them to have access to highly classified material, none the less they are unloaded on to a less highly classified part of their own Ministry or some other Ministry. It seems to me that this introduces a degree of tolerance of character defects which certainly does not exist in the Armed Services.

I would remind the House that only recently we debated in this House the Estimates Committee's Report, which, I may say, I signed with some doubts, that in the case of the War Office there should, in fact, be a considerable reduction of military officers in the establishment and a considerable expansion of civil servants, who would take over some of the jobs. I do not complain of that. I merely say that if the House wants to have more civil servants and fewer Service officers they must look again at the standard in this respect of character defects which they think it is right to maintain in Whitehall.

I hope that the Minister will give a little more thought to this aspect of this case. It makes one wonder whether we have completely discarded the over-tolerant attitude which certainly existed in one Ministry at the time of the Burgess and Maclean scandal. Character defects are an absolute bar when known in the Armed Services; why, then, are they not in the Civil Service?

Finally, may I offer one constructive thought which, I am sure, will have occurred to Her Majesty's Government long ago. It arises directly out of this case. I think that there is room for great concern at the size of the embassy staff of the Russians in London. I forget what the numbers are—whether it is 900 or just a few hundred—but it is inflated to a degree which does not exist in any British embassy overseas. It is clear, and not even denied, that there are large numbers of Russian officials in London who are, in fact, secret service agents of one kind or another.

My suggestion is really two-fold. First, we should insist—we have the power to do this by claiming reciprocal treatment between London and Moscow—on reducing the inflated staffs at the Soviet Embassy in London. Secondly, instead of trying to undertake the impossible task of watching for character defects in hundreds, if not thousands, of persons who have access to secret information in London, we should watch the source of the trouble. We should watch the lesser number of Russian agents who are going around London and this country. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some thought to that in due course.

1.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I must confess that I do not share the enthusiasm with which the Opposition Front Bench has pursued this subject. I believe that irrespective of party any Government would be faced with the same circumstances and difficulties. If a Labour Government were returned at the next General Election, I do not think that there would be an immediate and automatic end to spying as a result of the increased efficiency of Labour Ministers. After all, the Conservatives were not in power when other notorious prosecutions for spying took place. At that time, we would have asked why party political points should be made of the issue.

None of the previous speeches has gone down to the depths of the problem. The trouble is that it is very difficult to disengage melodrama from facts. Spying has always been a very useful subject for the popular novelist and the writer of popular thrillers, from Phillips Oppenheim to Graham Greene. It is easy to build up an extremely exciting story of spying in any part of the world. There is always a tendency for us to become very indignant about the spying of the enemy Power, but it is only rational to imagine that we do a little spying, too. This can be judged from the substantial increase in the Estimates for the Secret Service.

The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) said that these revelations had come about as a result of a Russian coming over to us and giving secrets to us. I do not know whether the British Secret Service would be averse to employing homosexuals to find out a secret which happened to be in the possession of the Russian Admiralty. On both sides there is a dark and doubtful hinterland of activity and counter-activity. It is frequently said that both sides employ prostitutes to get information out of drunken sailors and drunken soldiers. This is an inevitable part of the arms race.

I do not believe that we should use this case to make a scapegoat of, say, the former Civil Lord of the Admiralty. I represent him here. He is one of my constituents. I come here to hold a watching brief on his behalf. A Committee has been set up and the least we can say is that while the matter is subjudice it is regrettable that so many personal attacks have been made on the former Civil Lord before the case has even been heard.

That is my approach, should be very sorry indeed if the Civil Lord of the Admiralty had been encouraged to go into people's houses and ask the price of their carpets. At the Scottish Office he would have been doing that now, asking the price of carpets, and using that as a justification for increasing rents. I do not want to see an attempt to deal superficially with this question by making individual scapegoats.

The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) gave some very interesting facts. I hope that they will be referred to at the end of the debate. He said that 9,000 people go in and out of the Admiralty every day. Is it the position of the Labour Front Bench that we must spend a greater amount of public money on the security services? Is our slogan to be, "More power to the Secret Service"? A very large number of people will wonder why the Labour Party is fishing in these troubled waters and trying to make political capital out of what, after all, is not a party affair.

I do not want to increase expenditure on the Secret Service. I want to reduce it. I want to abolish it. I cannot see that the Labour Party is helping in any way towards securing the things I want to see by making an attack on a Minister and making a political scandal out of something which is not a political issue. If the Labour Party goes back to power at the next General Election, it, too, will have its problems. If it is to implement some of the suggestions which have been made, one of the first items in the new Budget will be an increase in expenditure on Che Secret Service, and I shall have to be here to oppose it.

The figures the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave were very alarming. If we are to need 20 Secret Service agents to scrutinise or, to use that curious word, vet 9,000 employees at the Admiralty, we shall add considerably to our liabilities. Is it proposed that we should not only have prolonged observations on the Admiralty staff to find out homosexuals, but that we should continue the process? Is the investigation to include all the Navy? Is it to include the other Armed Forces? I am inclined to think that this is an occasion on which we could have used the time of the House to better purpose than we have today.

There is the question of raising wages, the question whether £770 a year is sufficient pay for a clerk employed on this work. If we say "No", we shall be committed to a very large increase in expenditure on the Admiralty. I do not want to see an increase in expenditure on the Admiralty. I want to see it considerably reduced.

I turn to the question of the demand for an independent inquiry. How independent can such an inquiry be? Are the persons who are likely to be members of the independent inquiry to be subjected to vetting? Before they are appointed to the committee is anybody going to go round to see what is the price of the carpets on their floors? Is there to be an inquiry as to whether they have independent means? Would it be held against them if they had a rich aunt? Is the rich aunt to be investigated and vetted? If we go forward on these lines we shall be forced to unlimited expenditure. My argument is that we should stop before we start upon this line of conduct.

What would be the remit of the independent committee? Would it have power to investigate the whole expenditure on the Secret Service? How far would that be public? One matter which is very difficult to get past the Table Office is any Question about expenditure on the Secret Service. We come up against a barrier. What would the remit of the independent inquiry be? The last thing we should expect to have would be a report of the evidence. The Prime Minister is responsible for expenditure on the Secret Service. If there were an independent inquiry, there would be a report which would only be seen by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The average Member of the House of Commons would be no wiser than before.

There was common sense in what Mr. Khrushchev said in the United States of America when he was asked about expenditure on the secret services. Mr. Khrushchev said, "Perhaps it would be economical to pool our resources and exchange the secret information. By that means we would save a lot of money". We have to keep a secret service in the Admiralty to track down the Russian secret service agents who are watching British ships. In the early stages of the debate on the Polaris issue my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked why the Polaris submarine was being put in a place where is could be so easily observed by secret service agents coming from the neighbouring industrial city of Glasgow. He said that by bringing the base to the Clyde further developments of the secret service had been made inevitable.

If an independent inquiry were to be set up to inquire into the whole of the expenditure of the Admiralty, I should be inclined to favour it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton, in reply to a question from me about the rôle of the Navy in the next war, said, "The instructions of the Navy in the event of an atomic war would be to get to hell out of this". I do not see why there should be all this fuss about secret information or why we are working ourselves up into an atmosphere of melodrama. As long as there is an arms race and as long as their are rival fleets and armies, there will inevitably be people employed in intelligence services.

The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea spoke about the personnel of the Soviet Embassy. I do not know how that compares with other embassies. I am told that there are far more personnel at the American Embassy than there are at the Soviet Embassy. We might find ourselves in a wrangle about the embassies, which would get us nowhere. It is said that an ambassador is a person who lies abroad for the good of his country. Associated with all our embassies in every part of the world there are intelligence services to gain information about what is going on in that country.

When I am in Moscow, I take it for granted that each and everybody in the embassies on all sides is engaged in polite spying. What are our naval attaches there for but to find out as much information about the Russian fleet as they can? And the function of the Soviet naval attache in London must be to do the same thing here about our Navy. It may be true that we not only have people spying, not only on our potential enemies, but on our potential friends as well. I even understand that the Americans are spying on us, and we on the Americans.

It is no use speaking here in this self-righteous way. There may be a lack of surveillance on the part of the Government, but it is quite impossible to track down every kind of intelligent and resourceful spy on either side. Let us look at this realistically. Let us say that this has happened, and then admit that if we want to end it and use the activities of probably very intelligent gentleman in every branch in the real service of their country instead of the service in which they are now employed, so using their brains and resourcefulness to better purpose, we should do away with the arms race, and not merely make melodrama of issues like this.

1.37 p.m.

Photo of Commander Anthony Courtney Commander Anthony Courtney , Harrow East

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), although some of his remarks on espionage showed a certain amount of mixed thinking which is not perhaps altogether safe for one who makes as many trips to Moscow as he does. He and I have mutual friends in that country, which is a rather nice sideline to what I have to say. The hon. Member will excuse me if I do not follow him further, as I wish to refer directly to the Vassall case and to the counter-espionage side of our affairs and, if I can, to refute the charge brought by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker).

I shall not develop the argument too far, but I believe that we are not really dealing with a matter of the gravest importance by considering the purely tactical issue of Admiralty responsibility for physical failures of its security organisation. Here, perhaps, I may be allowed to correct my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence who gave, no doubt unwittingly, a false impression. He referred to the Naval Intelligence Department, but it is not a Department at all; it is the Naval Intelligence Division of the Naval Staff of the Admiralty. I wish to make that clear, because it has a strict bearing on the importance of the information gained by Vassall in the course of his activities.

The Admiralty is a civil establishment, but, unlike the two other great Departments of the Armed Forces in London, it is also an operational headquarters and, therefore, has a naval staff, of which the Naval Intelligence Division is a central part, charged with the operational management of the Royal Navy. That means that Vassall had access, not only to much important administrative and political information but to operational information which would become available to him within the naval staff in the office of the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence.

I believe that, in this instance, in rightly investigating the question of Ministerial responsibility, the Opposition are aiming at the wrong target, and that Ministerial responsibility for failures that have taken place involves conditions that make that responsibility much wider and higher than the Admiralty itself, the Civil Lord, his noble Friend, or the Minister of Defence.

I believe that Vassall is a sympton of a malaise which is the responsibility of Departments other than the Admiralty. I am sure that if, in looking further back into the Vassall case, we are to put our fingers on the real root of our weakness, and if we are to put the Vassall incident into perspective, we must appreciate than a number of other such cases have occurred over the last quarter of a century.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), in a most interesting speech, said that we would not have conceived ten or fifteen years ago tightening up security to the extent we are doing now. I ask, "Why not?" It is now twenty-five years since a cypher clerk in the Foreign Office was guilty of inflicting on his country damage probably equivalent to that recently inflicted by Vassall, and in circumstances—and this is the important point—which bear a very close relationship to the Vassall case.

Those of us who have some knowledge of intelligence activities, and who travel behind the Iron Curtain, cannot help feeling, as I do, that within the Foreign Office there is a curious lack of reality in considering the harsh facts of modern international politics. I should like to quote instances which appear to show a member of the Armed Forces who has been occupied in these affairs that this lack of reality seems to extend both to wartime and to peacetime, and is doubly dangerous in times like the present of so-called cold war.

The Cicero case, during the war, will be well known to hon. Members. It is appalling that in 1942, long before the Cicero case broke in Turkey, the Russian naval staff should have informed the British Naval Mission in Moscow that there was a serious security leakage at the British Embassy in Ankara, and that something should be done about it. I have to record that since the war both my admiral and myself have failed to find any trace of that message having been received, much less acted on, in this country.

The methods that have been used in the Vassall case have scarcely been mentioned today, but they are commonplace to those of us who get to know the Russians and their methods, and try to appreciate the strength of the force thatis up against us. It is only last year that a young man in Moscow, whom I know, a British subject but not a member of the embassy staff, was subjected to exactly the same treatment as Vassall,luckily without the consequences.

It is only a little time since, in our embassy in Warsaw, a senior attache consorted openly with a notorious Polish agent provocateuse, if I may so call her, with results later on which were very important indeed in the damage they did to our interests. Many hon. Members will remember that case. We had that extraordinary scene in Czechoslovakia, when an official of the British Embassy attempted to smuggle out a person in the boot of his car—an individual who was, of course, obliging enough to hammer on the boot at the frontier so that he could be discovered by the Czech frontier guards.

We have evidence of Russian activities not confined to men alone. They are aimed at the weakest point of our diplomatic representation in Moscow, and I believe that the same goes for our diplomatic missions in other countries behind the Iron Curtain. The women are not immune. I know of wives who have had to be flown back at extremely short notice because of the consequences that would have inevitably have resulted if they had stayed behind. The country must realise that, like a ship or a regiment in wartime, a British diplomatic mission behind the Iron Curtain in time of cold war is, in fact, on active service, and we must reorganise our arrangements accordingly.

To revert to the Vassall case, I want to know much more about the circumstances in which a young man lived for years in Moscow, going out to parties, consorting with his own people and with Russians in a small community, and a homosexual, without any one of those men or women in closest contact with him day by day having the remotest inkling that he suffered from such a character defect. If they did and it was reported back, I want to know why it was not further reported on.

I have been round to most of our embassies, and we have good and bad ones behind the Iron Curtain. Some of the good ones are very good; some of the bad ones are horrid. The great Napoleon said that there are no bad battalions, only bad officers. When things go wrong with the staff of our diplomatic missions abroad, the responsibility must be set where it belongs—with the head of the mission at that time. I regret to have to say it, but it very frequently appears that that responsibility is not accepted.

I know of instances where young women have been two years in embassies abroad without going inside the house of their own ambassador except on the Queen's Birthday. I do not believe that such a situation could possibly occur with Service wives in a regiment in times of near-active service. Far more attention should be paid by the Foreign Office to instilling a spirit of family, perhaps, and of responsibility in the head of a mission, particularly in those immensely vulnerable missions behind the Iron Curtain.

We must appreciate that every single individual in our diplomatic representation in those countries is the object of surveillance, and attack at the weakest point. We are all observed. Our weaknesses are chronicled. I have had tremendous fun in Russia—usually late at night, I admit, or after a good lunch—in saying to my Russian opposite number, "Ivan Ivanovitch, you are a friend of mine. We are beginning to know each other very well. It is your duty to watch me, and to record to your superiors everything I say. You and I understand that. Now, Ivan Ivanovitch, I will save you some trouble and tell you what my real weakness is—it's blondes". I assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that that is a type of levity which falls very flat on serious-minded Russian secret policemen.

This harassment continues day by day, and I do not think that we appreciate the fact. It is very difficult to convey in this House the atmosphere which obtains in these diplomatic ghettoes in these important countries behind the Iron Curtain. I am sure that we do not appreciate, and that the Foreign Office administration and Civil Service in general do not appreciate, the great difficulties under which these missions labour. I believe that it is true that one very serious potential security leak was indirectly caused by the lack of amenities in the accommodation in Moscow provided by a parsimonious Ministry of Works. I am glad to say that that has now been rectified, I hope with the result desired.

I wonder if we appreciate how much our representatives—not only Service representatives but diplomatic representatives as well and members of the Foreign Service—in these communities, isolated as they are, have to fight their own Civil Service at home on allowances, refunds of fares for children going on holiday and on all the petty details which may be perfectly applicable to our embassy in Paris, but which do not necessarily apply to an embassy in Warsaw or Prague. I believe that we are making a grave and continuing mistake by not facing the realities of the diplomatic situation in these countries.

The word "diplomacy" itself, which means the establishment of confidence between nations, loses its force in a country where, because of a trifling motor accident, a senior diplomatic officer is prevented from driving his car and has to be driven everywhere by his wife. We have much to learn from our enemies in this respect. We have much to do to catch up with the head start which they have got in so many directions in these matters.

I believe that responsibility for the Vassall case goes deeper and beyond the object of attack by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I believe that we should extend our investigations into the sources of the security risks, and not attempt to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted, by bullying the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, or by setting up a tribunal to find out whether there has been a breach of security in his Department. Until we go much deeper we shall not be treating this most important question at the right end.

In conclusion, may I remind the Government that a small group of us on this side of the House, no less than three years ago, expressed our deep disquiet at many aspects of our intelligence and our counter-intelligence system. I contend that, in the event, that deep disquiet has been amply justified. I contend that the statement made by the Government at that time that all was well in this best of all possible worlds in these important affairs of State was incorrect and misleading. I beg the Government to take the matter seriously; I beg them to do it, as one who has suffered interrogation by the Polish Secret Police and who has been escorted out of their country. I know the people with whom we are dealing, and the Government appear not to do. I beg them to look at the matter again.

1.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

It is always a great pleasure to listen to the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), who has just addressed the House. He speaks with robust common-sense, he is a man of the world and he is one of the relatively few people who have taken the trouble to do what every man bearing responsibility today ought to do, and that is to study the Russians.

As I was listening to his speech, I was asking myself this question: how long would Master Vassall have lasted if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had been Civil Lord? How long would it have taken him to spot Vassall, knowing that this boy had been for some years in Russia, and seeing, as I venture to say he would have seen, inside ten minutes what his weakness was, and finding that he was living it up in an expensive flat. I shall come back to this aspect of the matter, but how long, I wonder, would it have taken the hon. and gallant Gentleman to spot this one, if he had been Civil Lord?

The first question I should like to ask is how serious this is. The only unqualified and uninhibited support for the Government has come from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He, I think, takes the perhaps not unreasonable view that all security is a mistake, that the more secrets are passed to the other side the better, and that, perhaps, Mr. Vassall is entitled to our gratitude rather than our condemnation in having done a useful job. Of course, holding those views, I can fully understand how heartily he approves of the Admiralty.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

That is a complete travesty of everything I have said. I do not approve of the Admiralty.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

I accept that, and withdraw. In regard to that, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, after this experience, have the Admiralty got any secrets? To what extent has this prejudiced our relations with America? It may be that is as important an aspect here as the danger incurred by the Russians obtaining this information. What is the loss of confidence resulting to our American allies? I should like to hear from the Admiralty, because it has been said in the Press, what actions the Americans have taken on this.

To what extent has this broken down the tremendously essential exchange of information which must take place if our Navy is to operate effectively within this alliance? I can imagine, and I know, no greater source of wastage in our defence programme, and heaven knows it is exiguous enough with the money available, and we find it difficult, and the right hon. Gentleman himself finds it difficult enough, to provide what is required. The wastage in the field of research and production, because we have to duplicate what is being done by our American allies over and over again, is because there is no proper exchange of information. How far has this gone to wreck that exchange of information? That is something for which we say the Government are answerable.

Now I come to the question of security procedure. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is quite impossible to deny junior clerks access to all secret documents. Of course it is, and if it were only a question of some classified documents I cannot imagine that they would be of very great interest to the Russians. In every one of the Departments there are piles of classified documents of various levels of security and of no particular importance. What we are concerned about here are top-secret documents, the really vital documents. That is what is worrying us. It is the documents of the highest secrecy and the highest importance which have been passed over.

Is it seriously said that it is impossible to deny junior clerks access to such documents? During the war I served in the Admiralty. In my day the procedure was this. Piles of documents came round with various classifications, but the top-secret document was in a sealed envelope. I am speaking from memory and perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) will correct me if I am wrong, but the envelope bore the circulation of the people who were entitled to see the document and only those people were entitled to open that envelope. One signed a receipt for the envelope and it was entered in the safe file. The person entitled to open it saw it and put it on the file. Two people working together had independently to check the safe file and to see that every one of those documents was in the safe and locked up. Each was numbered and had to be accounted for. Is that still the procedure?

Photo of Captain John Litchfield Captain John Litchfield , Chelsea

Who does the hon. and learned Gentleman think typed the documents?

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

I remember making that inquiry when I was in the Admiralty. In fact, in case the same procedure is still adopted, I do not propose to state it now because I think there may be a security matter involved, but it was so arranged that the people who typed the documents were not in possession of the information. How it was done I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman afterwards, but I do not think it should be stated at the moment. That was the wartime procedure. What has happened in peacetime? Is this procedure operating? If so, how and where did it break down?

The next point on which I require information is that of vetting. Various of my hon. Friends, and I believe other hon. Members, have referred to civil liberty and to the importance of protecting the individual. If we choose to take employment in jobs which, in the circumstances of this cold war, involve secrets on which the security of the State depends, we should welcome investigation. People who do not want this should find other jobs. I feel that there is no excuse at all for people complaining about security investigation if they choose to go into security jobs.

What does positive vetting amount to? There are two overwhelmingly important things to look at—first expenditure. Right down to the old days before the 1914–18 war when there was the very serious case to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, the case of the various officers on the general staff in Vienna, and the cases in Paris—there is nothing new here—the factor which led the counter security to investigate was the excessive expenditure involved by people who did not have other obvious resources.

Here we have a clerk, during most of this time on a £14 level, living not in a millionaires' row—I do not say that Dolphin Square is that—but in a block which, on any view, must be described as luxury fiats, where nobody relying on that sort of income could possibly live. He would have to have other resources. It was said, I think, by the then Civil Lord, "I thought he had had a legacy from an aunt." Legacies and wills are registered. If we are going to have vetting, is that not precisely the sort of thing we ought to look at?

Again it is said that he is a known homosexual. The right hon. Gentleman poured scorn on that and said "Known to whom?" It was pretty soon known to the Russian intelligence, was it not? No sooner was this lad in Moscow than they spotted it. Why could not our people spot it? Why are we so much slower? Did not the Civil Lord have far better opportunities to assess this young gentleman from the knowledge which he had of him? The Russians spotted it as soon as he arrived. Why do they always have to be so much better at this than we are?

Then we are told "In fact, what this discloses is merely that there was a spy. No Minister and no office can be held responsible. The responsibility lies with somebody who turned disloyal. What we can pride ourselves on is that we have caught him." Yes, the Admiralty have caught three, but after how long and out of how many? That is what worries us. Each of these three was able to carry on for years, selling their country and selling vital documents in circumstances which, when one looks at them, ought to have disclosed their activities. How many are still doing it? That is what worries us.

Now I turn to the question which has been referred to as Ministerial responsibility. I am wondering whether that is the right expression here. Surely, so far as the former Civil Lord is concerned, what we are really considering is not Ministerial responsibility but personal responsibility. We do not have to look to Ministerial responsibility to say that a man is responsible for the security and custody of documents in his own office. That is a personal responsibility. What sort of steps were taken to look after the custody of the documents which this honourable Gentleman received, which were passed to him and to his office? The utter lack of security in that office and with regard to top-secret documents is surely a responsibility of his. Ministerial prefixes need not be put here.

Here we have, as it would appear, documents with no check on the safe, no check on whether they went out, some of which were taken by this young man. There is a box but no one seams to be clear when this man had the key to it, who was responsible for it and whether he was entitled to the key. That is the utter slackness in this office—an office under the particular and personal eye of this Minister. That is one of the principal factors we must consider.

Then there is the question of his failure to find out this young man. I am not for a moment criticising the hon. Gentleman because he asked this young man to luncheon on a number of occasions when documents were taken to Scotland. I do not see what on earth else he could have done. But surely that gave him an opportunity to get to know this man and to assess him. I do not say that he was wrong to go to a party at Dolphin Square given by this junior clerk, but I do say that he was amazingly naive in doing nothing about it once he got there. When he saw this set-up—this party, this flat, these furnishings and this carpet—was it not his duty to get on to the security people at the Admiralty and say, "You had better have a look at this"? The Radcliffe Report and, I imagine, every other report on security has emphasised that one does not get security unless one is security-minded. No security service can provide security by itself, but only provided other people in the Department regard security as their business, too, and as long as suspicious things are brought to the service's attention. It is co-operation with the security service of his own Department of which this Minister so signally failed to provide an example and signally failed to do what every official should do—refer the matter to the security people when things so obviously calling for inquiry happened.

Here was a young man working for months in close assocation—and I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that close association—which should have meant that an intelligent and wide-awake Minister should have put intelligence on the alert. Had this been done, how much injury might have been saved for this nation? I am, frankly, astounded that even at this stage he has felt it possible to remain in office.

Regarding the First Lord, there is indeed a matter which is Ministerial responsibility. He was not working cheek by jowl with this young man but, regarding Ministerial rseponsibility, I would have thought that the present First Lord—like the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent)—had a very good example—the example of a former Minister of Agriculture. They were his two Under-Secretaries. In the Crichel Down matter, if one was looking for personal blame, that blame lay on the Under-Secretaries rather than the Minister, but it was the Minister who resigned.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I am sure that the hon. and learned Member wishes to be fair. He will also mention, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord did resign following this even and that I did also.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Resigned or offered to?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I sent my resignation to the Prime Minister, who asked me to withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

I am not for a moment referring adversely to anything which the right hon. Member for Guildford or the First Lord did. I am referring rather to something highly honourable which the then Minister of Agriculture did. I am saying that if one looks at Ministerial responsibility then the Minister of Agriculture gave the present First Lord a very good example.

I turn to the subject of the inquiry. The Minister used the words, "If the Admiralty is at fault". Of course the Admiralty is at fault. Surely no one disputes that? The Admiralty's documents have passed out of the Admiralty and to the enemy. The only question to find out is who at the Admiralty was at fault. We are told that this is merely a question of finding the facts, and I cannot understand this. The inquiry in this case must find the deductions, conclusions and inferences to be drawn from the facts. It is required to find who was responsible. Thus it is a question of finding the responsibility. One can call responsibility a fact if one likes, but responsibility is what is being sought here and is it proper, desirable or in any kind of way convincing to have civil servants looking at the responsibility of high-placed colleagues and, even worse, at the responsibility of political Ministers?

It is a totally wrong and improper inquiry. We require an independent inquiry to judge who is responsible for this lamentable failure in this Ministry and to bring him or them before us.

2.18 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Grenville Howard Hon. Grenville Howard , St Ives

Without wishing to delay the House, may I say that there are one or two questions I would like to put following the remarks we have heard in this extremely interesting debate which, I am sure we all agree, bias been conducted with a sense of the grave nature of this matter and its importance to our country.

On the question of frequent, positive vetting, the numbers who would be involved have already been referred to and this should be further considered. Hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that it is rather difficult to do certain things in a free country. I would like to know—and this was mentioned strongly by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—how it was possible for this young man to be spotted at once by the Russians when he was in Moscow. Since the Russians were able so quickly to discover his failing why was not something done about it then?

This is, perhaps, the most important point because I maintain that once he had become suborned and had become a spy, whatever vetting we conducted and however efficient it was, it is certain that he would have been carefully instructed in his duties and the covers for them that it would have been more difficult to find him out. Although nobody minimises the seriousness of what has gone on—and my right hon. Friend was at pains to say so in his excellent speech—the real point which we have to consider is the time this young man spent in Moscow. We have to think about the fact that this man was able to consort with these people, because it must be remembered that he was a bachelor and was possibly lonely and without many friends, and Moscow is the sort of place in which he could easily be suborned.

Some people have talked about the difficulties of discovering homosexuals and people with similar tendencies. I do not wish to make specific charges, buy many of us have been abroad and have met some of the members of our embassies. It is not difficult to see that many of them are rather inclined that way.

Why cannot the Admiralty be responsible for its own security abroad? The Romer Committee, referring to Houghton, said: Nor can any criticism be made of want of action by the Naval Attache or the Admiralty in the events leading up to his recall to London, before the expiration of his appointment, on account of his drinking habits. That action could be taken because the man concerned was at that time a naval rating and was subject to naval discipline. I suppose, therefore, that it was possible for the naval authorities abroad to deal directly with the Admiralty, whereas it appears to be not possible for a naval attache abroad to deal direct with the Admiralty if the person concerned is a civilian employee. This point ought to be considered.

It is said that our security services find it difficult to discover whether these people are homosexuals. Are not there experts, be they police, or psychiatrists, I do not care who, who could be called in to assist?

My next point refers to people living above their means. Reference has been made to bank references. Before the war I used to be the London manager of a firm of cotton and merchant brokers. Every year I visited India on behalf of my firm. I was given bank references produced by various people. They were the most useless documents that I ever saw. They never gave the slightest information about the people concerned. My policy was this. When I arrived in Bombay I used to send for a Mend who used to go through the list and say "Yes", or "No", or "He is no good this year", and he was always right.

What can anyone possibly discover from a bank reference? If, as we have been told, £3,000 was paid into this young man's bank account, the bank would, naturally, say that he was an excellent young man. Banks do not inquire whether the money in a person's bank account has come from private means.

I turn now to say a word about my hon. Friend who was the Civil Lord at the time. The exaggeration in the Press has been monstrous. I am not blaming the Press as a whole, but the so-called popular Press, the irresponsible section of the Press in this country that started that hare about our troops in Germany. When a debate in this House indicated that their reports were utter nonsense, did they report that? Of course not, because it was criticism of themselves.

Some sections of the Press have attacked my hon. Friend because this young man went to Scotland with some boxes. Perhaps the work could not be done until after lunch. Because the young man was asked to stay to lunch, this is regarded as a terrible crime.

I take up the hon. and learned Member for Northampton on the question of my hon. Friend "pricing the joint" while he was in this young man's flat for about twenty minutes. I loathe cocktail parties. They are an absolute abomination. One sees a room full of people, and there is a frightful noise. There are lots of small tables which I am terrified of knocking over and spilling the nuts on the floor. If it is the case that the flat was full of people, can anyone really see the then Civil Lord going round the flat lifting up the carpets to see how expensive they were? Does anyone think that he would have been able to price the Queen Anne cabinet which may, in any case, have been a good copy from Tottenham Court Road? This is the most superb case of hindsight.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Nobody suggests that the hon. Gentleman should have gone round pricing items, but when one goes to a cocktail party in a flat of that sort in Dolphin Square is it not reasonably obvious that the set-up is rather odd for a £14 a week clerk?

Photo of Hon. Grenville Howard Hon. Grenville Howard , St Ives

I have tried to show that this young man may have had private means. Further, Dolphin Square in those days was not as expensive as some other accommodation. In the twenty minutes available to the then Civil Lord who was in this flat with his wife, obviously trying to make himself pleasant to all and sundry, it would be extraordinarily difficult for him to discover all those things.

What are the lessons to be learned? I think that every Member should read every word of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney). For years some of us have been talking about the homosexual spy schools in Russia, and we have been told that we see Communists under every bush. It is about time that we woke up to what is happening. It is about time that we woke up and realised the efficiency of the Russian spy system.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) mentioned the members of foreign embassies in this country. Surely we knew about this man who was going round drawing pink circles on trees in Kensington Park? For some time he had been known to be a spy. Why cannot we say that he is not persona grata and get rid of him? He skipped within 24 hours of this case coming to light. We should be able to take the advice of people who tell us that these men are spies, and get rid of them.

Is it right that young bachelors should be allowed to go to these Iron Curtain countries? It is difficult for a young man when he arrives in a place like Moscow, with all its barriers, the difficulties of travel, and the restrictions that are imposed. If a young man in that position is suborned, and it is very difficult to discover whether he has been, it is extremely difficult to say to him on his return to this country, "You cannot go on secret work because you have been in Moscow", because this would make it all the more difficult to get people to go to such places in the first instance.

If it is thought difficult to get this security problem put right, would not the answer be to send ratings out to these missions? The Admiralty would then have a direct responsibility in the matter. If this were done, we would not have this danger of a dual responsibility and the difficulty of bringing a man back to this country, and of reports going to the Foreign Office and not getting through to the Admiralty. If this were done, when the man returned from an Iron Curtain country he could, in the normal course of his duties, be sent somewhere else and there would be more chance of his being watched over than there was in this case.

That brings me to another point which has not been mentioned, the difficulties in our embassies, especially in those in Iron Curtain countries, when embassy personnel have foreign wives. I am not quoting any specific case, but if a man who has a foreign wife goes to an Iron Curtain country and his wife can be got at through relatives in another Iron Curtain country, it could put an intolerable strain on her. It is a situation which should not be allowed. Many Members of the House on both sides have friends who were behind the Iron Curtain and left for various reasons, and I think that those hon. Members would agree that this is something which is a very grave risk.

Once again, I must congratulate my right hon. Friend on the masterly speech he made at the beginning of this debate. At this stage we want to get the facts. It has been cleanly demonstrated, as my right hon. Friend has said, that if it should be the responsibility of my noble Friend, then he is perfectly prepared to accept it, but I regret the comment, which hon. Members will know, which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made on 30th October. I am sure he did not mean to say this: …the First Lord of the Admiralty has twice been involved in this kind of thing …". —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 25.] Really, it is not quite fair to say "involved". It sounds as though he is being accused of some complicity in this. I think that it is most regrettable, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to say that, and did not mean to convey that impression.

It is clear at this stage that what we want is the facts, and I conclude by saying,"Do not let us go on about who had the key, who took what documents out, who is doing the typing", but let us look at the source of the trouble, let us look at what is going on in Moscow, and how intelligence is coming back from these foreign missions. Let us see, if there is any aberration of this sort, that it is caught at the start, and then I am sure that our naval security will be adequate to cope with it.

2.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

I hope that the House has heard enough about this unpleasant subject, because I want to speak abcut something else. We have threshed this out fairly well today, and, after all, the debate on the Motion for an Address in reply to the Gracious Speech does give hon. Members the opportunity of raising miscellaneous subjects, so I should like, if I may, to bring the attention of the House back to a couple of points affecting more directly the day-to-day life of the people we represent.

Like other hon. Members, I must refer to these words in the Gracious Speech: My Ministers will continue to promote efficient and sound expansion of the national economy, with a high and stable level of employment. The first comment I have about that is to call attention to the half million unemployed we now have—just over half a million in Britain. In my constituency unemployment has now gone to 3·2 per cent., which is higher than the national average and higher than the regional average as well.

I know that we are to debate next week the general subject of unemployment and the economic position generally, but perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words about this, for this reason, that I notice that the Opposition Amendment to this Motion draws special attention to four areas, one being the north of England, and I am hoping that the north of England includes the north-western area in which my constituency is situated.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

I thank my right hon. Friend. I am glad to hear that, because there is this dark cloud of unemployment hanging over Lancashire at the present time. Some of the local authorities are not just crying out for help; they are taking active steps themselves to try to do something about it. The Town Council of Accrington has gone to considerable expense in preparing a trading estate which the council hopes will attract new industries to the district, and it has built a new market centre, and generally got on with the job, and in very unpromising circumstances, to prepare for what the council hopes will be a revival of industry.

There was a conference in Lancashire quite recently, which the Minister probably knows all about, attended by 34 mayors and chairmen of local authorities, who passed a resolution asking for some Government action in the matter and, in particular, calling attention to the attitude of the Government to the cotton industry, because we all know how that industry has been allowed to drift and, indeed, is bleeding to death, as it will unless something is done to pull it together. They asked particularly for the restoration of the 1959 ceiling on imports.

We realise and sympathise with the argument about the necessity for helping certain parts of the Commonwealth, particularly Hong Kong, but I sometimes wonder just whom we are helping in Hong Kong. Are they the people of Hong Kong, or are they some smart Alecks who withdrew their capital from this country, thereby causing unemployment in Lancashire and started up mills in Hong Kong, taking advantage of cheap labour in that part of the world?

I have never forgotten the shock I got after I was in Hong Kong a couple of years ago and found out certain unsatisfactory labour conditions. I reported them to the Minister and raised Questions in the House only to be told that my facts were incorrect. I am not blaming the Minister. He got official assurances that my information was incorrect. As I say, I do not blame the Minister for that, but it was a disillusionment to me. I never got over that. This is the sort of thing which is hurting Lancashire, which is continuing to hurt Lancashire, and I do hope that the Government have not shelved it but are continuing to con- sider whether anything can be done to help.

I know what the official reply will be, that they can give special consideration and issue industrial development certificates and so forth only where there is a certain percentage of unemployment over a certain period. I hope they are not going to be tied down too rigidly to that measurement, because it is like a doctor saying that he will not treat this man's illness till he has been ill for a certain period and the illness has reached a certain stage of seriousness. That is not the way to do it. In Lancashire there is an opportunity, I suggest, for something to be done fairly quickly on a local scale and, perhaps, on a national scale as well.

I had an opportunity during the Recess to go to America, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of national planning which is going on in that country. They would not use that term—" national planning". They certainly would not use any Left-wing terms, but they do go in for it just the same, whatever it is called. One interesting feature of their work is not only the wide scope of it, but that if they want to get any big engineering works done they do not hesitate to use Army engineers. That seems to me to be a thing which we ought to consider—giving work to army engineers, keeping their skill and energy employed and, at the same time, getting on with really useful national constructive work. There is something I suggest the Government might have a look at.

The only other local point I want to mention particularly is the other threat hanging over Lancashire and my constituency at the moment, and that is the reorganisation of local government. Before this gets too far I want to ask the Government, if they will, to pay attention to the protest which was raised at the annual conference of the Urban District Councils Association against a possible wholesale elimination of urban districts. There may be a case here and there for adjustments; there may be a case even for amalgamations of certain local authorities; but to go at it as though urban district councils had served their day I suggest would be the wrong approach, and I ask the Government not to underrate local patriotism and civic pride. We in Lancashire do not want anything like this great, sweeping London plan, which is going to create such an enormous local government area and wipe out all local initiative and interest.

Those are the points I wanted to raise, and I am grateful for having been given the opportunity of making them. I want to make just one other point and that is in connection with the other place. I am disappointed that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about reform of the House of Lords. This has been talked of time and time again, and I know that there is a Committee sitting at the moment on a particular aspect of it, but the thing which has always worried me since I came to this House is this acceptance of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords.

I have nothing against the second Chamber. I have nothing against many people in the second Chamber. I recognise that anyone who has shown merit in any particular field, be it diplomacy or business or the Services, and so on, may be a very useful person to be sent to the other place to revise our legislation and to contribute his expert knowledge on a subject, but I do not think anyone can defend this principle of someone sitting in the other place with legislative powers simply because one of his ancestors happened to go there for some particular reason. I suggest that the creation of life peers was a wise move, and I would like to see it extended, and I should like to see all future appointments to the House of Lords on the basis of life peerages. That would be, I agree, a very slow way of carrying out the object I would have in view, but, nevertheless, it would be a step in the right direction. I make that suggestion and register by disappointment that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about it.

There is some useful new legislation envisaged, and I am quite sure that the Opposition will give every assistance in getting much of it through, but I suggest, as has been said before, that probably there is enough existing legislation on the Statute Book without our needing to create too much new legislation in this new Session. It has been said that there is enough legislation already on the Statute Book to create a social revolution in this country.So I would ask the Government to have another look at the powers they already possess to see if they can use them more fully than they are using them at present.

The country is, of course, expecting some good things to be brought out of the bag before the next General Election. Well, good luck to the Government if they do it, but they have got to hurry up, because time is running short, and they will have to do something pretty good to offset the terribly bad record they have on their conscience at the present time.

2.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Colin Turner Mr Colin Turner , Woolwich West

I had not intended this afternoon to go into the question of Hong Kong, but as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Acerington (Mr. H. Hynd) has just mentioned that far-off Colony, I do not think I can let some of his comments go unchallenged, and what I have to say about them will fit in with the comments I wanted to make about the difficulties of the Commonwealth in Asia at the present time.

Hong Kong, by its own efforts, unaided from this country, has since the war turned itself into one of the most highly industrialised areas, with a higher and more rapidly growing standard of living than anywhere else in Asia. I do not know what factories the hon. Member visited in Hong Kong, but without entering this afternoon into the battle between Lancashire and Hong Kong, all I can say, from my own experience on the numerous occasions I have been there, visiting factories of ail types, is that some of the cotton mills there have had some of the most ideal labour conditions of anywhere in the world. They were equipped with more modern machinery than any other factory in the world. If we hope to industrialise these under-developed nations overseas we must be prepared to accept their goods when the plants get into full production. I understand the Lancashire point of view, but when people in this country criticise the import of textiles from Hong Kong into this country and Europe, we must realise that Hong Kong buys more from this country and from the countries of Europe than we buy from her.

I wish to turn to the question of defence in Asia. I was not able to listen to all the speeches made earlier this week on foreign affairs, but I have read with great interest the comments on the battle between India and Ghana. What I have not heard in this House or on television or radio or seen in the Press is any detailed thought about why Communist China should want to take possession of territory in the north of India which has little natural resources and for much of the time an appalling climate. This is one of the most important questions which we should be asking ourselves. If we cannot answer it, I do not think we can get together a coherent plan for the defence of the Western way of life and of the other countries in South-East Asia in which we have interests.

One of the reasons China has taken this dramatic and I believe very decisive step to invade, as invading she is, parts of India is that she wants to demonstrate to the world very clearly, and particularly to the uncommitted and neutral nations of Africa and Asia, that if she can bring the world's second largest nation to its knees and make it give concessions to Communist China, the people of Asia, particularly those in small nations in South-East Asia, will have little will to defend their own way of life and to govern their own countries if they are opposed by Communist China.

I have said previously in the House that it is absolutely essential that Communist China should be admitted as a member of the United Nations. It was interesting to see in the last few days, when this issue came up to the United Nations, that, despite the fact that she has been attacked by China, India still supports the admission of China to the United Nations. I am glad to see that Her Majesty's Government still take this view. One of the most important things for the defence, peace and stability of Asia is that we should continue to press all our friends, including the United States, to take this very much belated action. The Chinese are a very proud people, and for the first time they find themselves a power in the world. As long as they feel that they are being underrated by the other nations of the world so much longer will they continue to cause unnecessary trouble.

I am not suggesting for a moment that if Communist China is admitted to the United Nations peace and tranquillity will reign throughout Asia; far from it. But it is essential for the peace of the world to make it perfectly plain by discussion and argument in the United Nations that the Soviet Union has far more to be afraid of in connection with Communist China than she has to be afraid of the West or of the United States. The war that has been started in Asia will be far more difficult to quell and quench than the danger of a conflict between Russia and the United States over Cuba. It may be said that there is little danger of an atomic war developing between India and China. That may be true. But the consequences for the world and for peace in the next generation are in much greater danger because of the fight going on between India and China than because of the danger of a conflict between Russia and the United States over a place like Cuba.

I believe that the lesson which we must learn from the invasion of India is that the Chinese want to impress the neutralist and uncommitted nations of Asia, in particular, and of Africa that they are the one almighty power and that no one can gainsay what they desire. It is as well to remember the lessons to be learned from the under-educated and under-developed countries in Africa and Asia.

A leading Pakistani who has spoken to me since I became a Member of the House said," How can you expect a citizen of Pakistan with no education in some arid part of the country to decide whether Pakistan should join S.E.A.T.O., CENTO or any of the other military pacts?" The Pakistani citizen is interested only in ensuring that his own standard of living develops and that the stomachs of himself and his family are full every day of the year. He wants to see developments in his village. He wants irrigation so that his crops grow with greater vigour. He knows nothing of the outside world. It is therefore ridiculous to think that the people in these territories worry about the Government which is governing them. What they are interested in is how they will live tomorrow. I am sure that this is one of the lessons that we have to learn.

Another example of how the people in Asia are prepared only to support the side which they think will win is that of Field Marshal Templer in Malaya, a man who understood the people and succeeded in gaining their support and confidence. Another story is that concerning the recent anti-malaria campaign in Borneo when the Kampong people were extremely distressed about and hostile to the campaign because they maintained that the spray that the medical officers had been using had killed one of their water buffalo and a plssatoon of police had to be brought in to stop the trouble spreading. However, one of the medical officers had a bright idea. He got one of the water buffalo to drink from a bucket containing the spray. He said that he did not know whether the buffalo would be alive next day, but as it happened the buffalo was quietly munching away the following morning. The Kampong people then understood that this was in their interests and that it would not do them harm, and they learnt a lesson.

Unfortunately, our American allies seem to believe that there are only two sorts of people in the world—either Communists or anti-Communists. What they do not appreciate is that there are tens of millions of people in Africa and Asia who are not the slightest bit interested in politics or in what is going on in the world around them. All that they want is an improvement in their own standard of living. Two people from Vietnam told me only recently, "The Americans, British and the West have done a fine job in Vietnam in bringing us arms and economic aid in the form of development projects". But there is no hope of winning the fight even with the arms, ammunition and guns unless the people have the will and desire to fight. It is because the people are more interested in their standard of living and in themselves and their families above all else that I believe that much of the defence of Asia for peace in that part of the world has been misdirected.

When money is poured into a country of the type about which I have been talking the most important short-term aim must be to win the confidence and minds of the people. This can be done only if economic aid is used on a short-term basis in such a way that it affects the lives of the ordinary people. It has therefore always seemed folly to me to pour in money to a Government which has no effective civil service of the integrity of ours in this country and which has no experts to administer it. When it comes to giving aid in the form of direct money grants, it would have been far better on many occasions to have purchased all the products of the country concerned, whether they were wanted or not. It would have been far better to dump them in the sea on the way back because when the products have been purchased some people, namely, the people who have made them, the working people in those countries, the peasants, will get some reward. Very often so much of the generous economic aid granted by America, this country and elsewhere is syphoned off in commission and other things that by the time that it reaches the project probably one-tenth and at the maximum one-half goes into it.

To turn to the longer aspect of this problem—all this is vitally connected with the defence of peace and stability in Asia—it is essential that if we decide to improve agricultural systems, to introduce irrigation systems, to build power stations, and so on, we should see the project through from start to finish.

Many of my friends in South-East Asia say that we lack that necessary control to ensure that our money and aid do the job we intend. I believe that the lesson we have to learn in that part of the world is that of gaining the minds and confidence of the people concerned. It is useless setting up the great conception of Malaysia as a bastion against Communism in South-East Asia if in the other territories confidence in the ability of the West to win and control the area disappears overnight.

I come back to where I began—to the battle between India and China. I believe that it is essential to ensure, for the peace of the world in the long run, that India is not defeated. We may have available our forces in Singapore and in Malaysia, when it is created later this year, but all this will be in vain if Communist China is able to establish a feeling throughout South-East Asia that, in the long run, it will win.

It is to this context that I direct the attention of the Government, in the hope that they will take greater interest in the other forms of defence of Asia with the object of gaining the confidence of the people. We must show, by deliberate means which affect the ordinary people, that, if they support the West and take an interest in what we are doing and in what their Governments are doing, it will improve their standard of living. If we make a determined effort through our allies in the East we may be able to win this battle.

At this time it is absolutely essential that we and our other friends in the West, and the other members of the Commonwealth, should pull out all the stops to try to get an understanding between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This is absolutely vital for the future of the world. If three-quarters of India's troops are lined along the Pakistan border in Kashmir, how can we expect India to contain Communist China?

I conclude by summarising my points. It is even more essential that Communist China should be admitted to the United Nations. We must win the minds and the confidence of the peoples of Asia by direct economic action that will have an immediate effect on their lives, and we must demonstrate that we mean what we say. Here I come back finally to what I said about Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is the showpiece of the Western way of life in the centre of Asia. If we can demonstrate that the Western way of life brings a thriving and growing industrial community up to a standard of living higher than anywhere else in Asia, and continue to show that we mean what we say, we shall win through. But because of sectional interests—which I appreciate—in Lancashire and other parts of this country, such as the question of the knitted gloves from Hong Kong some years ago, the standard of living might be lowered in parts of South East Asia. If that happens, the people there will say that the people of the West did not really believe in what they were doing.

3.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

I am sorry that the Minister of Defence has left the House, because we are now beginning to get on to the subjects which are very much within his province, even if they do not concern minor spies and traitors and acts of subversion and treachery. But they are major acts in the context of the world power struggle. I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) on restoring this debate to some degree of proportion in regard to the scale of world events with which we are confronted and which we should be considering.

I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about the Far East, and I agree with some of his conclusions. The Chinese attack on India is an act of aggression, a unilateral act in defiance of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, and an act of incredible political folly. The sooner it is stopped the better. I also agree that one of the positive things we can try to do is to encourage the admission of China into the United Nations and to bring economic and social aid to the peoples of South-East Asia without political considerations. But I think that we must do more than that.

One step—although perhaps a negative one—is that we must go right out of our way to avoid dragging India into the full aspect of the world power struggle between capitalism and Communism. In other words, we have to make sure, in whatever we do to help India, or whatever other people do to help, that we still enable India to pursue her policy of non-alignment in the general world struggle to which Mr. Nehru is still firmly committed and which, in itself, is a part of the defence not only of India but of the peoples of the world against the full and most dire consequences of the world struggle.

I hope that we shall impress upon the Americans with all the force that we ought to have, but which we have not very much of at the present time, the necessity of abandoning their continuous hostility to Communist China. That hostility has continued ever since the Chinese Communist revolution and it has taken on at various times military and aggressive force. Indeed it is still doing so in South Vietnam.

I suggest that one of the direct causes of the switch of Chinese policy towards India is that, when the Chinese found that the Indian chairman of the International Commission for Vietnam had put his signature to a report which whitewashed the American military intervention, they regarded it as an action showing that the Indians were no longer neutrals. They drew the conclusion from their view of the world and from the continuous hostility of the United States that imperialism is, and will remain, an aggressive force, that it will oppose social revolutions everywhere by violence if necessary, that there are no neutrals in this struggle and that, therefore, the Communists must meet this challenge by their own means of violence.

That is the basis of the Chinese controversy with Russia. I must say that if I were a Chinese Communist looking from Peking outwards I would find it very difficult not to draw similar conclusions. The Americans claim to be engaged in a world power struggle in defence of freedom against tyranny. Their actions demonstrate that this is untrue. Vietnam is a case in point. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West said that the Vietnamese people are not showing any great willingness to fight against Communism in South Vietnam, despite what is now massive military aid. The reason is clear. They are being called upon not only to fight against Communism, but to fight for the continuance of political tyranny and the continuance of economic exploitation.

Photo of Mr Colin Turner Mr Colin Turner , Woolwich West

I do not believe that that is true at all. I believe that the Vietnamese people are not interested in any of those things. All they want at the moment is peace and stability. They could not care less which political ideology is in the country so long as it allows them to get on with improving their standard of living.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

If the hon. Member thinks that the Vietnamese people, whether in the North or the South, welcome and enjoy political tyranny, he has an astonishing and very low view of human nature in any part of the world. Of course, they abhor political tyranny, the political tyranny which is exercised by Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam to everybody's knowledge, and which is accompanied by the grossest forms of economic exploitation.

The hon. Member talked about making Hong Kong a show-piece of the Western world. I have not been to Hong Kong, but I have been to Saigon. I have seen there one aspect of what might be called a show-piece of the Western world in its very worst features—peasants and townspeople living jam-packed together on mud flats in conditions of the direst poverty and misery, While on the other side of the river there were other Vietnamese flaunting themselves in flashy American cars which they had bought out of their speculative deals in American aid to Vietnam. That is the situation and, while that goes on and involves this gross exploitation of the Vietnamese people, especially the peasants, we shall not get any fight from them against Communism.

Nor can we pretend that the Americans are defending freedom against tyranny. They are, in fact, defending tyranny in order to defend capitalism. That is what they are doing and what they have done in Vietnam, in Cuba, in Guatemala and in every other part of the world in which they have intervened with aggression or with subversion, or with some other form of the exercise of force against the free will of the people within that country.

In other words, the Americans have behaved in this world power struggle at least as badly as the Russians and the Chinese. Let us be frank about this. They have used precisely the same methods, including the selling or the exchange of secrets, the keeping of power activity secret until they are found out, and bad faith against one's friends and allies. All these methods have been used in this power struggle by both slides, and are still being used. Let us face that frankly if we want to have a proper analysis of the world situation and what we ought to do about it; and What we ought to do to protect the British people in this situation.

During the last war the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) sold to the Americans British atomic energy secrets and withheld them from the other of our major allies, the Soviet Union. By that act of transference of military secrets to one side and not to the other he put the United States in a position to be the top power against the Soviet Union after the war had ended. He did so quite deliberately. This country got nothing for it at all, nothing in return for the military secrets that were handed over. In fact, we were placed in a rather inferior position in the commercial use and development of atomic energy which followed.

But some things followed from that. One was that the Americans, having gained an overwhelming military superiority over the Soviet Union, made up their minds to maintain it and throughout all the negotiations, the discussions about disarmament and in every move in the power struggle since 1945, have been bent on maintaining their vast superiority, at all costs, right up to the latest act of President Kennedy over Cuba.

On the other hand, Stalin drew the conclusion that Russia must seek on her own to catch up with, and if possible surpass, American superiority, that there could be no agreement between the two sides and no settlement of the points of dispute between them except on the basis of negotiations conducted with power behind them, and that, because of Russia's inferior position in the power struggle, she must make use of all the weapons of secrecy, subversion, and lying, if necessary, to (try to catch up with the Americans. So both sides have done it.

What Mr. Khrushchev has done during the last week or two in secretly and clandestinely putting offensive nuclear weapons into Cuba is, in the light of international morality and international law, an act on the same level as the American action in lying about the U.2 flights, until they were found out, or of overthrowing the Left-wing Government in Guatemala and seeking to overthrow the Left-wing Government in Cuba. So when we come to apportion blame about what has happened in the Cuban crisis all that we can do, I think, at the moment, is to say that great blame attaches to both sides, that Khrushchev flouted the spirit of the Charter and made what was a dangerous move in the power game and that President Kennedy has certainly flouted the Charter and acted unilaterally in defiance of the United Nations and without consulting his allies. Indeed, he is still continuing to do so.

I would have thought that one of the questions that we ought to be putting to President Kennedy now is why he has not brought before the Security Council, for its endorsement, approval and backing, the agreement which he has reached with Mr. Khrushchev over what should happen about Cuba. One of the reasons why U Thant is not able to act effectively in Cuba at the moment and why the Americans are still taking unilateral action with the blockade and aerial reconnaissance is that U Thant has no instructions from the Security Council as to what he should do to carry out the agreement and the settlement arrived at between President Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev.

I hope that the British Government will immediately urge that the Security Council be called in order to ratify the agreement between the two Powers and give U Thant the necessary instructions to ensure that the agreement is carried out in all its terms—that is to say, the removal of the American bases from Cuba and the implementation for the future as well as for the present of President Kennedy's promise to keep Amerioan hands off Cuba.

There is one word more to be said, not about the actions of the American or Russian Governments in this crisis, but about those of the British Government. There is almost a conspiracy of amnesia in the House to try to make us all forget that during a few days last week the people of this country—all of them—were threatened with annihilation in nuclear war and that while that threat was on the British Government were not only powerless to do anything to ward off the threat, but took an active step to make it certain that if nuclear war came the whole of the 50 million British men, women and children would perish. What did the Prime Minister say in his speech on Tuesday?

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

He may have spoken for some mystical entity which the hon. Gentleman calls Britain. He certainly did not speak for the 50 million inhabitants of Britain, who are the people about whom I am concerned. The Prime Minister said: It did not happen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 41.] He did not say what "it" was. He showed a curious shyness which I am glad to say the Foreign Secretary has not indulged in. The Foreign Secretary came into the open and said the other night, frankly and brutally, that Mr. Khrushchev made his turn about because he was threatened with nuclear war. So"it did not happen "means that nuclear war did not happen. We all know that. For some reason, we now try to gloss it over.

We know why it did not happen—because Mr. Khrushchev gave way to the threat. It did not happen, but not because President Kennedy did not intend to carry out his threat, because the appalling thing is that there is every indication in President Kennedy's speeches, actions and preparations to invade Cuba that this threat was no bluff but that he meant to go through with it to the point of plunging the whole world into a nuclear war.

The Prime Minister knew this, and he knew it during that fateful weekend to which he referred as the climax. He knew very well that there was at that moment on that Saturday night and Sunday morning a possibility that within a new days, or indeed a few hours, the American nuclear bases in this country would have been activated and nuclear bombs would have been dropping in this country, which would have obliterated the British people entirely. The British Government knew, moreover, that President Kennedy meant what he said, because the American military experts had calculated that if it came to the point of nuclear war only 50 million Americans would have been killed, 50 million Britons would have been killed, 50 million Europeans would have been killed and 100 million Russians would have been killed. So America would have won the war and survived as an entity and only Britain would have totally perished. That is what would have happened.

That is what can still happen in the future, unless we learn our lessons from the past. One of the lessons is that at this fateful moment, when the lives of all the British people were at stake, the Prime Minister was not powerless to act, as he pretended that he was, saying that he was not consulted. He was informed, and he was informed in time to act and in time to reply to President Kennedy. He could have replied to President Kennedy in these terms, "The moment you sink a Russian ship or drop a bomb on or invade Cuba we shall immediately immobilise every nuclear base in this country, announce it to the world, and ask United Nations observers to come to this country and verify it". That is what he could have done to protect the people of this country in that moment of dire crisis.

However, the Prime Minister did not do that. Instead, he wrote a letter which was nominally addressed to Mr. Khrushchev, but which, in any case, did not reach Mr. Khrushchev in time for it to have any effect upon him. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the main purpose of writing the letter and of making it public was simple. The Prime Minister said: The purpose of this letter was simple; it was to range the British Government squarely and publicly with the President now that the climax had been reached. Later, the Prime Minister said: "…after sending this message which made it clear where Britain stood"— by "Britain", of course, he meant the British Government— one could not help wondering what would happen next. There was no more that we could do except just wait and see what would happen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October. 1962; Vol. 666, c. 40.] What a humiliating confession by a British Prime Minister, the leader of a great and proud country. And the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffte (Mr. Bidgood) calls that speaking for Britain—to say that all he could do was to wonder and to wait and to see what happened next.

Fortunately, as the Prime Minister went on to say, it did not happen, namely, the nuclear war did not come. The lives of 50 million people were not sacrificed after all. But what the British Prime Minister had done by writing and publishing that letter had been to offer to President Kennedy the lives of 50 million British men, women and children in the scales of the balance of terror that President Kennedy was then holding over the world.

That is an active treachery to the British people unexampled in the history of British Prime Ministers. The Prime Minister should be impeached for daring, when he had the opportunity to protect the British people, to hand them over on a plate to be used as pawns; to be sacrificed, if necessary, in the game of high power politics which might so easily have ended in total disaster.

The first conclusion we should draw from this is that there ought to be an inquiry into the actions of the British Government during this recent crisis, particularly into the way in which they consulted, or failed to consult, and advise President Kennedy, and especially into the way in which they handled the power that they were supposed to have of being able to determine whether or not American weapons based in this country were employed, and in what circumstances they were employed.

The second conclusion is that the "Proteus" supply ship, laden with its deadly cargo of Polaris missiles, which mysteriously sailed from British waters during the height of the crisis, should not be allowed to return, nor any of the Polaris submarines that it serves;that the Thor missile bases that are supposed to be dismantled should be dismantled at once, and that the other American nuclear bases in this country should go as soon as the Russian missile bases have gone from Cuba.

3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I should carry the House into deep water, and myself probably into hot water, if I attempted to reply to all the points that have been raised in this debate. I would simply like to assure the House that I have paid close attention to them all, that I have noted them, and that I will convey them to my right hon. Friends who are in charge of the Departments concerned with the very diverse points raised.

Apart from points concerning the Vassall case, which were raised earlier in the debate and were heard by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, I should like, in particular, to tell the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) that, on the question of Home Office matters, I understand it to be the intention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in winding up the debate on Monday, to refer to some of the points that he raised. I cannot guarantee that all will be covered, but there will be future opportunities to deal with those that are not by Question or debate.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Peel.]

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.