Oral Answers to Questions — MR. Harold Philby

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th July 1963.

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Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North 12:00 am, 16th July 1963

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement following the further inquiries into the case of Mr. Philby.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

asked the Prime Minister (1) on what date in the last seven years Mr. H. Philby renewed his passport;

(2) whether Mr. H. A. R. Philby was invited by Her Majesty's Government to return to Great Britain at any time in the last three months; and what was the nature of the reply to such invitation.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale

asked the Prime Minister what instructions were given by his Department to diplomatic representatives in the Middle East as to the kinds of information which should or should not be made available to Mr. Philby.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

asked the Prime Minister on how many occasions Mr. Philby was asked to official functions in Beirut by the British Embassy during the last three years.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I have made the most careful investigation into all the relevant events in this case and I have discussed them in detail with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

I hope the House will accept that it would not be in the national interest for hon. Members to inquire further into the past history of the case and I would ask the House therefore to refrain from any further public discussion of these matters.

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

I appreciate the difficulties about public discussion of this matter, but can I put two questions to the Prime Minister? First, does he not agree that the statement that Mr. Philby worked with the Soviet authorities before 1946 is perhaps the most serious aspect of the matter, in view of the position then held by him? Secondly, did the assertions by the Lord Privy Seal, that the security services had never closed their files on this matter and that they thought that it was wise that Mr. Philby should be helped to find other employment, mean that he was still regarded then as being a security risk and, if so, was not this singularly unwise employment to find for him?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I appreciate the hon. and learned Member's knowledge of these matters in which, I think, he has some experience. He will also know the importance of the old tradition of the House that we should not discuss some of these aspects of our national functions. I would only appeal to the House to revert to this older tradition, which I think is in the national interest. I have had the advantage of having discussions with the Leader of the Opposition—another very old tradition of our Parliamentary system—and I hope to have further discussions with him as to the best way in which we can try to regulate these affairs in the general interests of the nation.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that we well understand why he wants to play this down, but can he specifically answer my first Question, namely, when Philby applied for the renewal of his passport and whether he was questioned by the authorities at that time about his past movements? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that this is a question not of security but of the facts of the case, which the House has a right to have in its possession?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. We lead from one question to another and one question leads to another. It is dangerous and bad for our general national interest to discuss these matters. It has been a very long tradition of the House to trust the relations between the two parties to discussions between the Leader of the Opposition of the day and the Prime Minister of the day. I ask the House now to revert to the older tradition—[Hon. Members: "No."]—which I think is in our real interests. Otherwise, we would risk destroying services which are of the utmost value to us.

Mr. H. Wilson:

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I can confirm what he has just said? In the two meetings which we have had, he has given my right hon. Friend and me a very full and frank account of this case, which raises a number of issues which, frankly, cannot be discussed across the Floor of the House. While we still have some grave anxieties about the way in which it has been handled, which I think it best we should pursue in further confidential discussions with the right hon. Gentleman, we feel that in the public interest this is a matter which should now be left where it is and not made the subject of further public discussion or public inquiry.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, I am always willing to discuss with him, as I was with his predecessor, all these matters which always, through our history, have been questions outside party and which the Leader of the Opposition of the day and the Prime Minister of the day have a right and duty to discuss with each other.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

While appreciating what the Prime Minister has said, may I ask him whether he is aware that the Government and the House also have a duty to the public? A statement was made in the House, no doubt quite rightly, and the public are naturally interested in certain aspects of this case. Apart from the security aspects, there has been considerable speculation about how it came that this man was recommended to a newspaper, which apparently was not informed or warned or in any way asked about the inquiries which subsequently went on. It would be useful for the public at large if the Prime Minister could assure us that there was no lack of liaison between whatever branch is inquiring into Mr. Philby's activities and the Foreign Office, which apparently was not in a position to warn the Observer what was going on.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

This question is just an example of the danger of being led into answering exactly the kind of points which the right hon. Gentleman has made. If he had any experience—which, alas, I have and which others have—of the operations which we are forced to undertake in the present condition of the world, he would not have put his question.