I beg to move,
That this House do now adjourn.
The reason for this debate being taken on the Motion for the Adjournment is to give hon. Members the opportunity to debate matters affecting security as well as those matters which arise directly out of Lord Denning's Report. I think it is the wish of the House, within the discretion which we must impose upon ourselves when we talk about the security of the State, that this debate should range fairly widely. In what I say I shall confine myself to certain aspects of Lord Denning's Report and, with an eye on the future in particular, to certain problems affecting the security of the State.
This is the first appropriate occasion on which the Government have been able to convey their thanks to Lord Denning, and in that I am sure I shall be joined by hon. Members in all quarters of the House. No one could possibly envy Lord Denning the task which he undertook, and I think few would feel that they could have done it as well as he. The main part of the Report is, of course, a narrative of events. The clarity with which the story has been written has been widely acclaimed, and, by setting out what happened in the gripping style which Lord Denning has used, he has carried conviction as to its truth.
It is only right, I think, in this complicated sequence of events which has been unfolded to say that the Report of Lord Denning does not depart in any particular from the long account given on 17th June to this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). His speech then stands up to examination after the most exhaustive inquiries which have been made by Lord Denning. I think the House will probably feel that the narrative part of Lord Denning's Report requires little comment from me. It tells the unhappy tale. It gives all the facts and, although the behaviour of some of the main characters was frequently reprehensible and sometimes sordid, I think the House will agree that no good will come of raking over all that happened. Nor do I propose to moralise, but only to express the general relief and satisfaction which I think will be shared by the whole House that at last this great mass of scandalous rumour can be put behind us once and for all and dispelled. Part IV of the Report, I think, can enable us to put the whole of this unsavoury business right behind us.
Now, when we have Lord Denning's Report after a lapse of very many months, it is difficult to re-create in our minds the excitement of the affair at the time. Again, I think there will be general consent that I should not try to do so, other than to record that many on both sides of the House felt that if we did not stand out against the scandalous spate of rumour that was all around us, there was real danger that great damage might be done to the public life and institutions of this country, and that the damage would go far beyond those directly involved and those responsible for dealing with it.
Whatever criticisms may be directed at the conduct of events by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley, all will be grateful that he insisted that justice must be done and that justice must be seen to be done. In this context I think it is necessary that I should deal with some important passages in the Denning Report, and deal with them in rather more detail.
I refer in particular—because I think this is the most convenient point to which to refer—to paragraphs 285 and 286 of the Report dealing with Ministerial responsibility. If I may, although the passages are rather long, I should like to read the relevant portions of them to the House. Lord Denning says:
Nevertheless, there are two matters which Parliament may wish to consider further:
(a) Did the Ministers ask themselves the proper question? They concentrated their attention on the matter of immorality. And the one question they asked themselves was whether Mr. Profumo had in fact committed adultery: whereas the proper question may have been: was his conduct, proved or admitted, such as to lead ordinary people reasonably to believe that he had committed adultery? If that were the proper question the answer was clear. His conduct
was such as to lead to that belief. And no further inquiries would help.
He goes on in sub-paragraph (b) asking if inquiries ought to have been made, and then in paragraph 286 he says:
Those are questions which I would not seek to answer. They are matters for Parliament and not for me. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the conduct of Mr. Profumo was such as to create, amongst an influential section of the people, a reasonable belief that he had committed adultery with such a woman in such circumstances as the case discloses. It was the responsibility of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and of them only, to deal with this situation: and they did not succeed in doing so.
For the sake of clarity I should like to make it clear that these passages which I have read do not relate to what is called the "late night meeting" of Ministers. The nature of that meeting has been widely misunderstood and I should like to correct those misunderstandings. It was not the purpose of that meeting and the Ministers at that meeting to cross-examine Mr. Profumo. That had been done on a number of occasions. Their primary task was, first of all, to find out if Mr. Profumo was prepared to make a statement and, if he was, to make sure that the statement fully answered the allegations which were known to have been made against him.
There have been suggestions that Ministers pressed him to agree to their draft. I have made inquiries and satisfied myself that this was not so. Their sole concern was to help him clear himself of those charges and see that the statement was in proper Parliamentary form. But this passage does apply to all the other meetings when Mr. Profumo was questioned by his colleagues. Naturally, therefore, I have read these extracts with the greatest care. I think that there are one or two points which I should make to the House.
Lord Denning does not here assert that the question he poses is the proper test. What he is doing is to put forward an analogy from the divorce law and to put it forward for consideration. The House will have noted from the quotation which I made that he does not judge the matter himself but says that these are proper matters for consideration by Parliament. I agree with that. In paragraph 286 Lord Denning concludes that the Prime Minister and his colleagues did not succeed in dealing with the matter. I call
the attention of the House to what I think is the best commentary on paragraphs 285 and 286, which is to be found in paragraph 185. Lord Denning there says:
I am sure that the Prime Minister and all the Ministers were satisfied of the truth of that statement. They could not conceive that any of their colleagues would have the effrontery to make a false statement to the House. The business of the country could not be carried on if a member of the Government could not accept the word of another implicitly.
My right hon. Friend, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will speak for himself; but that was the dilemma, as I understand it, which faced him and his colleagues. Lord Denning has said, in paragraph 285(b), that there seemed to be a risk in taking Mr. Profumo's word, but the House will remember what my right hon. Friend had to weigh. There was the solemn statement of Mr. Profumo to the House. There were the libel actions which he had instituted, one of which he had won. My right hon. Friend also had to weigh the appalling damage which would have been done to the public life of this country if a Minister had been publicly disgraced and had later been proved to be innocent. AH these factors must have weighed in my right hon. Friend's mind.
The analogy of a divorce court has been disputed. I do not think that I am competent to pronounce on that. But, in accepting Lord Denning's Report on behalf of the Government, as I do, I ask that paragraphs 285 and 286 be read alongside paragraph 185.
I am glad that Lord Denning gave an account of the working of the Security Service and, in particular, that he quoted in paragraph 238 what is known as the Maxwell-Fyfe directive. I think that this well repays study, and it illustrates how very easy it would be to cross the line between a free society and a police State. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of it are very wise when we are considering the shape of our security service. I shall read them to the House:
I think that that directive should be closely studied by everybody who is interested in the security of the nation.
I think, also, that the close co-operation which must exist between what Lord Denning called a comparatively small Security Service and the police makes it natural and right that the Minister to whom the head of the Security Service should be directly responsible should be the Home Secretary. He is the Minister who can most appropriately answer for the Security Service organisation in Parliament, although I must make clear that the Prime Minister must be ready to answer questions if he himself judges that they involve the security of the State. No Prime Minister will ever shirk that duty. Of that I am quite sure.
But, when all that has been done, no one can be complacent. The House has been warned many times of the constant pressure on our security system. This is likely, I am afraid, to continue for some time, because it is not likely that espionage will decrease at the same rate at which we hope that the cold war will evaporate. The attack is always directed against the most sensitive parts of the Government service, and it throws up particular problems. They are problems, of course, primarily for the Government of the day, but, nevertheless, the security of the State is to some extent the responsibility of all and they are, therefore, problems for the Opposition, for Parliament, and, indeed, for society as a whole. Any breach of security at any time rightly causes anxiety about whether there may be some defect in the organisation which is a proper matter for censure or whether there may be a case for reorganisation and change in the security services themselves.
Of course, in the beginning, espionage is a matter for the criminal law, and much that concerns it is inevitably secret; but, just because that is so and just because a great deal of a case, or at least some part of a case, heard in the courts may have to be heard in camera, this tends to bring about a residual anxiety about the extent of the damage which may be caused by any particular spy or about the efficiency of operation of the security system as a whole. It has been said over and over again that the catching of spies is prima facie ground for saying that the security system is effective, but I do not think that it is right that Ministers and Parliament should always have to take that on trust.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend, before me, and now I myself, have been considering whether there are any improvements which can be made in the machinery of inquiries and any improvements which might bring increasing confidence to Parliament and to the country. As far as the precedents go, there have been ad hoc inquiries of various kinds over past years, and there have been a number of inquiries which have used the formidable procedures of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. Since Lord Denning's Report, and in the light of it, there is probably now wide agreement that, in certain circumstances, nothing short of an inquiry under the 1921 Act will do. I think that that is certainly the conclusion on the recent debate in another place, the report of which hon. Members have probably read. But there is, equally, concern—all feel and share this concern—that, whenever a tribunal is set up, there is a danger that innocent reputations may be damaged.
It was, therefore, with these considerations in mind, and with the question in our minds as to how these matters which involve civil servants involved in a security case should be handled in Parliament, that my right hon. Friend a few months ago put before the House the idea that there might be a Standing Commission on Security. I have had time to think about this and I have had some conversations with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I must not anticipate his views, though what I shall say now I think can fairly be said to represent the gist of our private talks. I shall only outline the ideas to the House today, because I want to hear the debate and hear the contributions which hon. Members may make on this subject or, indeed, on any possible amendments of the 1921 Act. If we were to set up a Standing Security Commission, I think, first, that it should have a judicial chairman. Because it is concerned with the conduct and the effectiveness of the Government services, I think that it would be well to put on it one or two retired civil servants and one or two officers of the Armed Services experienced in security matters. If such a Commission was established, the Prime Minister of the day would decide whether in any particular case it should be asked to inquire into a particular matter, but before taking that decision he would consult the Leader of the Opposition.
The question would then arise as to what kind of powers the Security Commission might have. I would expect that the Commission would normally carry out its duties on Government instructions but that, if in a particular case the Commission's inquiries were not able to be effective without powers to compel evidence, then it would be right for Parliament to confer on it for the purposes of that particular inquiry the powers under the 1921 Act, which can be done by Resolution. The Commission would submit the results of its inquiries and any proposals that it might wish to make for improved machinery consequent upon its inquiries to the Prime Minister, who again at that point would consult the Leader of the Opposition, although it must be reserved for the Government of the day to decide what action, if any, should be taken.
I think that these proposals have some merits, although I have deliberately put forward only the framework today, in view of this debate. In matters relating to breaches of security by a member of the Civil Service, there would be machinery ready at hand to deal with them. In matters relating to a breach of security threatening the State, these arrangements would at each stage be discussed between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, thereby achieving something which I believe is of immense importance—an attempt, at any rate, to avoid these matters becoming matters of dispute between the parties in this House. A judicial chairman would give confidence that the inquiry was independent. The presence of senior officers, both from the Civil Service and from the Armed Forces with a knowledge of security would, I think, ensure that knowledge of these very complicated matters was available. The Commission would be advisory to the Prime Minister, so that in that way it would in no way supplant the courts, and it would preserve the ultimate responsibility in the hands of the Government of the day.
Would the Prime Minister say what standard of proof would be applied by such a Security Commission? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that this question gave Lord Denning considerable anxiety, whether the ordinary standard of proof which applies in a court of law should be applied, or whether the much lower standard of proof which is applied in inquiries into civil servants' conduct where security may be involved should be applied. The two things are vastly different.
I think this is an extremely difficult question. I should have thought that it would have to be left to the judicial chairman to advise in any particular case, and he would also have to advise the Prime Minister whether or not he wished the compulsory powers in the 1921 Act to be invoked.
As I have said, I have deliberately left a number of questions unanswered which will have to be much more closely considered, but if in principle the House is in favour of setting up a Standing Security Commission, the Government in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition could proceed to the necessary action.
Lord Denning's Report deals with the past. I believe that in all parts of the House, and certainly in the country, there is a great relief that all the rumours are dead and that public life can continue to be run—this is the only way in which public life can be run—on a basis of trust between the members of a Government and, if I may put it in this way, on a basis of trust between Government and Opposition. I have tried to make proposals which will help, and I think that this is also the country's desire, to see these matters of the security of the State taken as far as possible out of party politics. I hope, therefore, that today we shall find a large measure of agreement and act as a House in these matters which, after all, concern the security of the whole nation.
I think that the House would agree that that was a somewhat strange speech from the Prime Minister. Considering that only a very short time ago such great interest was being expressed by the Government and by Ministers in the Denning Report, it is a little surprising that the right hon. Gentleman should dismiss it in so few sentences this afternoon.
I fully agree with the Prime Minister's tribute to Lord Denning, as we would all do, for his integrity, his thoroughness, his devotion to the task which was given him by the Government, and, not least—because everyone has noticed this; the Prime Minister paid tribute to it—for his superb gift of clarity in expressing his conclusions. But after the Prime Minister had paid that tribute to Lord Denning he then proceeded to try to demolish those parts of the Denning Report which were critical of the Government So we have the situation that the Prime Minister is apparently prepared to accept the Report, apart from those parts which are critical.
After that, the Prime Minister went on to his proposals for a Security Commission, which I will come to in a few minutes, though I must say right away—I am sure the Prime Minister will agree—that what he has suggested here cannot be regarded as anything other than a long stop to deal with breakdowns in the system such as have occurred from time to time, and nothing that he has proposed this afternoon in any way derogates from the responsibility of the executive Government for adequately controlling the security services of this country.
It is true—to this extent I understand the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman—that, although it is only a few weeks since the Denning Report was published, in an atmosphere of salesmanship and ballyhoo such as never previously pervaded the environs of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, this debate now seems curiously remote from the events of last summer and last autumn. I am bound to say that it recalls to me the opening words of a chapter in a book which I hope we have all read called 1066 And All That, about the early Stuarts. We were told that the first thing that James I, who, it was said, had a tidy mind, did was to have Sir Walter Raleigh executed for having been left over from the previous reign.
I think that that is the spirit in which not only the Government side but hon. Members on both sides of the House will attempt to approach large parts of this Report, but, if this is our approach—and, like the right hon. Gentleman, none of us wants to rake over some of the embers which were stirred up in the summer—it is important that we should not thereby fail as a House to do our duty in probing deep shortcomings in the top direction of our security services, in expressing widespread anxieties—and nothing that the Prime Minister said in his speech did anything to dissipate those anxieties—about Government responsibility and in examining and seeking to remedy defects and weaknesses of system which we simply cannot afford to allow to persist.
In one sense, this debate is a continuation of the very serious and searching debate of 17th June, now six months ago, in that the Report throws a clear light on events which at that time were shaded from us by obscurity. However, before coming to the events, I should like to spend a little time on the question about which we were not in agreement in June, namely, the appropriateness of this kind of inquiry.
It is no reflection on Lord Denning, to whom both the right hon. Gentleman and myself have paid tribute, to say that an impossible and invidious task was placed on him and that never again must this House or any Government shuffle off their responsibilities by referring to a member of the judiciary a task which manifestly should have been performed by the Executive, or, in default of the Executive, by this House.
We recognise that the then Prime Minister, whom we are delighted to welcome back with us this afternoon, was in a desperate situation at the time that he set up the Denning Inquiry, with his authority almost fatally weakened on the eve of vital international talks with President Kennedy and at a time when not a single Parliamentary observer or, I suspect, Ministerial colleague was prepared to ensure his ten- ure of the Premiership for long enough even to take him into the calmer waters of the Parliamentary Recess. The need for the Prime Minister to lower the political temperature and win time was paramount, and the Denning Inquiry supplied the means.
When the then Prime Minister announced the inquiry, we argued that, where the Executive had failed to discharge its responsibilities to the nation by dealing firmly and crisply with a continuing security risk, the responsibility lay on this House, through the medium of a Select Committee composed of trusted members from both sides of the House, whether Privy Councillors or not, to get to the truth. We believed then, and we believe now, that a Select Committee would have had power to compel the truth, which it has, and to cross-examine. It would have had the advantage which Lord Denning had but which a 1921 Act tribunal would not have had, of doing its work privately without involving, perhaps, permanent damage on innocent individuals, and, indeed, on our public life.
The report of a Select Committee, I believe, would have been honest and full following an inquiry which would have been private and far removed from sensationalism. I think that such a report would have been unanimous, because I do not accept the view that a Select Committee would have failed in its duty to this House by sacrificing the search for truth to party considerations. To suggest that this would have been the case is, I think, a libel on hon. Members. I had the honour for more than three years to preside over one of our more honoured Select Committees which regularly had, and still has, to deal with matters of highly explosive political content but every member of which, without exception and on every occasion, has put his duty to the House above supposed party advantage. If that is true of one Select Committee, I am sure that it would have been just as true of any Select Committee.
There was, of course, the additional consideration that one of the central matters requiring examination was the circumstances in which five Members of this House, all of them Ministers, were concerned in the preparation or a personal statement to be made to this
House, a statement which was, in the event, shown to be wrong and wholly misleading. In the exchanges on 21st June, when the then Prime Minister announced the setting up of the Denning Inquiry, I referred to this question, which is of direct relevance to the interests of this House. I said:
that is, the personal statement—
can only be settled by the House of Commons and not by a judge, however distinguished and however learned".—[Official Report, 21st June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 802.]
In the event, three months later, Lord Denning, after the most searching inquiry and in one of his most critical passages which has been quoted by the Prime Minister, threw the whole responsibility right back to Parliament. He said:
These are questions which I would not seek to answer. They are matters for Parliament and not for me.
As the Prime Minister said, Parliament is once again seized of these issues. But Parliament should never have been dis-seized of them by the establishment of this inquiry.
This recent practice of turning to the judiciary to probe matters which are properly the sphere of the Executive and, on a failure, or alleged failure, of the Executive, the responsibility of this House, is a relatively new development which is fraught with danger both in devaluing the rôle and standing of Parliament and in blurring the edge which marks the sharp definition of the functions of the judiciary, on the one hand, and the Executive and Legislature, on the other. Earlier administrations did not take this way out.
Hon. Members may have read the book Men and Power, 1917–18 by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, referring to the Maurice debate of May, 1918, which followed allegations made in the Press by General Maurice that both Lloyd George and Bonar Law had made misleading statements about the Army in Parliament. Mr. Asquith demanded a Select Committee, and this matter went to the Cabinet. If the House will bear with me, I should like to quote from this book:
that was Asquith's proposal—
to set up a Committee of the House of Commons had to be rejected. It was decided that the Government should invite two judges to act as a Court of Honour to enquire into the charge that mis-statements had been made. Later that day Bonar Law communicated the Government's intention to the House of Commons. The decision failed to satisfy Asquith. He intended to have the matter opened to discussion on the Floor of the House; he invited the Government to name a day for a debate. Churchill was sitting beside Bonar Law on the front bench. He heard the proposal for a Judicial Committee for the first time. He urged Bonar Law to withdraw the offer. Bonar Law made no answer. Later Churchill joined Lloyd George and Bonar Law in conference. He convinced them that a Minister should never ask a Judicial Committee to enquire into his own integrity. Churchill's intervention was decisive. The offer of a Judicial Committee was never renewed.
The book goes on to say that eight years later the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) wrote a letter to Lord Beaverbrook which is quoted in the Appendix. I will quote what the right hon. Gentleman said:
All I recollect is being horrified to hear Bonar offer Asquith a judicial enquiry. I was with him on the bench and implored that this offer should be withdrawn. I think that I was the one who convinced both him and L.J. that same afternoon. It would have been a frightful trap, and no Government ought to put up a set of judges to say whether they are liars or not.
I believe that the right hon. Member for Woodford, in expressing that view nearly 40 years ago, was right. He stated the right constitutional doctrine, and it is this Government which devalued our standards of Ministerial responsibility to Parliament by departing from that doctrine. I say "this Government" and not just the former Prime Minister, because this was a Cabinet decision. Indeed, it was taken by the Cabinet. It was later reconfirmed by the Cabinet because, after we objected to the form of the inquiry proposed, the matter went back to the Cabinet and was reconfirmed by it.
I turn to the main theme of the debate and first to the form of it. After the reliance placed on the Denning Inquiry; after the uninhibited public interest stirred up at every stage; after the television ballyhoo—Lord Denning could not move an inch without being followed by the television cameras; after the Government's extraordinary decision to open Her Majesty's Stationery Office at 12,30 in the morning; in view of the fact that during all this period Parliament's right of intervention or debate was set aside because of the inquiry, after the clear recognition, which I think the House will accept, that the Government were saved from defeat and disintegration only by the decision to hold the inquiry—after all this, it is a remark able fact that the Government could not bring themselves to say that they accept the Report by a simple Motion asking the House so to resolve. The Government did not even put down a Motion to take note of the Report, because they feared that we should table an Amendment calling on the House to accept it and because the right hon. Gentleman felt that he could not lead his supporters into the Division Lobby either for or against that Motion.
The argument used both by the Prime Minister this afternoon and by the Leader of the House that an Adjournment debate was needed so that we could discuss the issues which we have had in the Prime Minister's speech will not bear the somewhat considerable weight that has been put upon it. If the idea of having an Adjournment debate was to permit the Prime Minister to adumbrate his ideas about the Security Commission, he could have done this on a Motion either to accept or to take note of the Denning Report, because it was on such a Motion in relation to the Radcliffe Report that the former Prime Minister first outlined the idea of a Security Commission.
The truth is that the Government dare not accept the Report, because it criticises the Government and, in particular, it criticises the five Ministers who met privily downstairs to concoct the statement that was made in the House—and three of those Ministers are still in the Administration.
I said quite clearly that we accepted the Report. My only reservation—which was not a reservation—was that those two paragraphs should be read together. We accept the Report.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he accepted the Report and then proceeded to try to demolish the only part of it that was critical of the Government—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister did not say that he accepted the two paragraphs that he read out. He spent a long time trying to show that they were nonsense. [An Hon. Member: "That is not what he said."] If the Prime Minister was prepared to accept the Report, why not give the House the chance to accept it?
I say this frankly to the Government. To employ a distinguished judge, to invoke his great distinction and learning as a means of postponing and evading Parliamentary criticism—this was done—and then, at the end of the day, to reject those parts of the Report which are inconvenient and embarrassing to the Government—
I can only think that the right hon. Gentleman composed his speech before I made mine. I said, if he will allow me to say so seriously, that I accepted the Report and I accept the two paragraphs. I did, however, ask that the two paragraphs should be read together, because they will pose a dilemma at some future time if such a situation should ever occur again.
The House is perfectly capable of reading the Report and understanding it without guidance from the right hon. Gentleman. The House and the Press had already read the Report and formed their view of it. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the last sentence that he read from those two paragraphs? Does he accept it unequivocally or not? Of course, he does not.
It is perfectly clear that what Lord Denning says, in effect, is that Ministers were deceived; he says so. All I say is that paragraphs 285 and 286—[Interruption.]—if hon. Members opposite do not want an answer to the question, I will not give it; if they do, I will. All I say is that paragraph 286 must be balanced by paragraph 185. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do this, because they must be read together.
Lord Denning obviously knew what he was doing when he wrote that paragraph. He did not say that it must be balanced against some other paragraph. Lord Denning said in the paragraph that it was the duty of Ministers and they had not succeeded. It would have been better in all the circumstances had the right hon. Gentleman simply said frankly that the Government accept the Report.
We have had this before. We had a previous occasion when there was a big Parliamentary storm. That was about Nyasaland. The Government then managed for some time to buy time to lower the temperature by setting up the Devlin Inquiry. Then, when the highly critical Report came from Lord Devlin, we all remember the slurs which the then Attorney-General, the noble Lord who now goes to Germany to preach about the independence of the judiciary—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—disparaged Lord Devlin on that occasion and depreciated the value of his investigation. I suggest, therefore, to the Prime Minister that the conclusion from this is that where this kind of problem arises, whatever the Government in power, it is a matter, first, for the Executive and, then, for this House. The Government should not bring judges into it unless they intend to accept their decision at the end of it.
I turn now to the findings. We unreservedly accept, as the Prime Minister did, the conclusions of Part IV, headed
Rumours affecting the honour and integrity of public life",
because those rumours neither began on nor were they given any currency from this side of the House. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I ask any hon. Member to tell us of any of the rumours in Part IV that emanated from this side of the House. One thing about which hon. Members can agree, if they treat this matter seriously for a moment—and this is a serious subject—is that from the beginning of this whole business, from the time, months before anything became public, when certain information was in our hands, we treated this matter entirely in relation to security, we dealt entirely directly with the Prime Minister in private and it was not until the whole thing was blown open by the action of the then Secretary of State for War that anything was said publicly.
As for the rumours that are dealt with in Part IV of the Report, let us be quite frank about where they came from. Some of them came from the senior underworld of Fleet Street, not of responsible journalists, and some of them were the diversion of some of the more discreditable West End clubs, because they were passing all the time from mouth to mouth in West End clubs. We, and, I am sure, the whole House, unreservedly accept Lord Denning's findings. In so doing, all of us are saying that these rumours are dead and buried.
Secondly, we regard the general findings of the Report as abundantly justifying the concern that we expressed throughout those months. First, we expressed them, as I have said, in private to the Prime Minister. Secondly, there were the statements that were made from this side before the debate on the House and, thirdly, in the debate on 17th June. Having read the Denning Report, I take back not a word of what I said in that debate.
I have no more desire now than I had then to go into the personal conduct of Mr. Profumo and I agree very much with the way in which the Prime Minister approached this side of the question this afternoon. As we said throughout, we were from the time of my first meeting with the Prime Minister concerned solely with the continuing security risk which had existed and which, we felt, due to laxity in the Ministerial conduct of our security services, was allowed to continue. We can argue as we do in this House about defence policy, there are different views in this House about defence policy; but, whatever the policy, there is no true defence without security.
Lord Denning's findings confirm our view, which was expressed in June, that there was no evidence to suggest that there was no reason to think that any leakage of information had taken place—that is what we said—although this could never be proved, because during the period of maximum risk the security services were not aware of what was going on. What is undeniable is—and this was the burden of our charge in June, and our only charge—is that a grave risk continued and was not dealt with. I see no reason to change our view, which was widely shared in the country, that the one reason why no action was taken was that there was great fear on the part of the Government that there would be grave political consequences if any action was taken on this and it was brought out into the open.
Without going into the whole argument of She Report or the detailed chronology, there is one central theme,
one issue of timing, which I think rests beyond challenge. On 26th January the police authorities knew of the Keeler-Profumo relationship. Indeed, they were told at that time that security was involved. They unaccountably failed to get further information. On 7th February the Special Branch knew. Yet on 23rd March the Prime Minister as head of the Security Service gave his authority for the Secretary of State's so-called personal statement in the House, and the then Prime Minister himself cleared its wording—indeed, he himself made two drafting amendments to it. But clearly there was—and we accept what he said in the debate—a long period in which the police knew and he was not told. Of course, we accepted that, when he said he was not told. It was not until 27th May, four months after the police knew, that the Prime Minister in his fourth meeting with me on this question, was still asserting that there was nothing even to inquire into. It was on 30th May—by this time he had been told, I think on 29th May—that he felt able to write to me to say
I am sure in my own mind that the security aspect of the Ward case has been fully and efficiently watched, but I think it important that you should be in no doubt about it
Then we got the Lord Chancellor's inquiry. It was four months after the police knew. It was in fact two months after the Home Secretary knew—because the Home Secretary, with whose alleged responsibility for security I will deal with in a minute, himself took the initiative at the end of March in asking both the security services and the police what they knew. This was on 27th March, when he was told that both these departments, both of them supposedly under the Home Secretary, had been told two months earlier. So, after two months delay, the Home Secretary knew what his two departments had known all along but he had not told the Prime Minister. He did not tell the Prime Minister because he assumed that the Prime Minister knew. We now know that the Prime Minister did not know. The security services, for their part, did not inform the Prime Minister of the information they had had since January, until in fact the security issue was raised with the Prime Minister from the Opposition.
Another strange thing was that despite the information given to Admiralty House by the News of the World at the beginning of February the Prime Minister himself remained innocent and ignorant of the whole business until 29th May, and even then, as his letter of the following day showed, he did not believe it. This was not a reflection on the integrity of the then Prime Minister, but this timetable—1st January, police;1st March, Home Secretary, two months late; May, the Prime Minister, two months after the Home Secretary and four months after the police—is however a reflection on the whole efficiency of the Government machine. It is a reflection of the most grotesque lack of administrative and Ministerial control and it shows in the field of security, as we have seen in so many other fields, the price of nonchalant amateurism in a world of ruthless professionalism, because there is no sphere in which we have to compete with such ruthless professionalism as in the field of security. The security services which really did have a lot to explain have attempted to explain their failure to report to the Prime Minister—and Lord Denning has in fact gone a long way towards accepting their story—by reference to the Maxwell-Fyfe directive. The Prime Minister, after all, we are now told, was not responsible for security: it was the Home Secretary all along.
Let us examine this thesis, because a lot has been made of it. We all know the statement made in Parliament in 1961 by the then Prime Minister—I dug it out myself several months ago and quoted it—that the security services are in effect under the Home Secretary for pay, rations, general organisation. But, before the Denning Report, did anyone believe that the Home Secretary was the Minister responsible for security? Did the Home Secretary believe it himself? Did any other Minister know about it? Because Lord Denning tells us clearly in paragraph 182 that none of the five downstairs Ministers knew about it. The funny thing was that the Chief Whip did not know about it—the Patronage Secretary did not know of the major decision taken by the Government 11 years earlier and supposed to have been working throughout the Government machine through all that time. I am not blaming the Chief Whip for not knowing.
I do not believe anybody else knew. I am quite certain that the then Prime Minister did not know, because if he did there are some very odd things which have got to be explained.
Throughout his period as Prime Minister he never once, so far as I know, transferred a single Parliamentary Question on security to the Home Office. He took full responsibility in this House, and all honour to him. In no security debate, so far as I can recall, did the Home Secretary ever take part. The Prime Minister invariably did. Nor was the Home Secretary in any case a supporting speaker. In all my meetings on security with the then Prime Minister I think there was one occasion when the Home Secretary was ever present. That was the meeting on 20th June when we were discussing the form of the inquiry. We were not discussing security; we were discussing the form of inquiry, and the Home Secretary was there on that occasion, with others, purely because one possible form of inquiry being considered was a tribunal under the 1921 Act.
The Home Secretary is, of course, custodian of the operations under the 1921 Act. His only other concern was for the administration of justice and he was quite fairly concerned that a public tribunal might prejudice a fair trial for Dr. Ward. On security matters the Home Secretary had never been in on the act, in any of the meetings the Prime Minister has had with successive Leaders of the Opposition. So it is a very odd thing that we are told that he is the Minister responsible for security, because whenever any Opposition Leader has met the Prime Minister to discuss a matter in which another Minister's responsibility is involved that Minister has been present, be it on Treasury matters or foreign affairs or whatever it might be.
Again, if the Home Secretary had been thought responsible for security the Private Secretary at No. 10, on hearing the first allegations in early February, would surely have taken up the matter with the Home Secretary, not, as we were told, with the head, or rather the deputy director, of the security services; because the Private Secretaries of Prime Ministers do not go to officials behind the backs of the Ministers responsible. Has he known he would have alerted the Home Secre- tary. I hope we are going to be told honestly about this because, frankly, after the right hon. Gentleman's references in his speech I find myself more confused than ever about what the Government think the arrangements are.
I believe it never occurred to the Prime Minister that in a major matter of security anyone but the Prime Minister was responsible. It is a strange thing that in his speech on 17th June, a very full speech, he never once referred to the Home Secretary in connection with security, but on 21st June, when the inquiry was announced, he said that the inquiry would relate to the relationship between the security service and the Government—
with the Home Secretary, under whom it is officially, and with me, under whom it is on the whole."—[Official Report, 21st June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 808.]
Certainly the then Prime Minister could not have thought that the Home Secretary vas responsible. I am going to prove it now, because the House will recall that in 1962 the then Prime Minister for some months staved off a demand for an inquiry into the Vassall affair. Instead of having a public inquiry, or a judicial inquiry or a Select Committee, he set up a high-powered independent official inquiry consisting of Permanent Secretaries—under whom? The chairmanship of the Permanent Secretary of State at the Home Office. Since the duty of this committee was to inquire into a possible breakdown in Departmental responsibilities it is inconceivable that the Permanent Head of the Home Office would have been put in charge of such an inquiry, if it was thought that his Department had primary responsibility. I certainly would acquit the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure the whole House would, of such a course of action. No: he did not know. Again, when he appointed Lord Denning, I would have thought it inconceivable that we would have attached to Lord Denning, as his main aide, adviser and guide through the Whitehall labyrinth, a high Home Office official—Mr. Critchley—if the Prime Minister had thought that the Home Office was under suspicion or criticism here, because this would have involved very grave charges. I am certain he did not know that the Home Office was responsible
Yet the qualified exoneration of the security services was based on the Maxwell-Fyfe directive. Without that exoneration, the security services' failure to go to the Prime Minister in the four months I have mentioned could never have been explained away. Even with it—even if one accepts that the Home Secretary was responsible—it is very hard to explain either the failure of the security services to go to the Home Secretary or the failure of the Home Secretary to go to the Prime Minister at the end of March. These things cannot be explained.
Moreover, we are told in the Report that the reason for the Maxwell-Fyfe directive—I am quoting Sir Norman Brook—was that:
it would be helpful to the Director-General of the Security Service to be able to turn to a senior Permanent Secretary for advice and assistance on the policy aspects of his work and on his relations with other Government Departments; and that he would receive from the permanent head of the Home Office support and guidance which the Prime Minister's secretariat is not in a position to give.
On matters of supreme importance and delicacy, the Head of the Service should always be able at his initiation to arrange a personal interview with the Prime Minister.
None of these things happened. If the Maxwell-Fyfe directive was in force, and believed to be in force, why were these matters not reported to the Permanent Under-Secretary of State? Where was the co-ordination between the police and the security services which the Permanent Under-Secretary of State was in a unique position to promote? Why was there no approach to the Prime Minister on the matter, which, it cannot be denied, was a matter of "supreme importance and delicacy"?
We shall be told, I hope, a great deal more about this. The only good that can come out of the debate will be a clear guarantee to Parliament for the future on where Ministerial responsibility lies, because I am still not clear—and I am sure the House is not clear—where the responsibility lies between the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister today.
The present Prime Minister's answers to Questions on 19th November only made the confusion worse. He was
asked to which Ministers Questions should be put down. He said:
In accordance with the present arrangements Questions about security should in general be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary…
But this has never been the present arrangement. A Question on security has not been put down to the Home Secretary in years. All the Questions have been put down to the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister was asked if there had been a change, he said there had not been a change. He said:
…my right hon. Friend…made the position clear. I must point out that there has been no change since then.
Since Questions until then had only been put to the Prime Minister and after that were supposed to be put to the Home Secretary, there must have been a change. [An Hon. Member: "A dramatic change."] I would not call it dramatic.
The right hon. Gentleman went on and said, after being pressed a little further:
I would always like to see them on the Order Paper first. If they deal with the organisation of the security services, their discipline, pay and so on, they ought to go down to the Home Secretary, but…if a Question ranges more widely and is concerned with the security of the State and brings in the Prime Minister, it would be my duty to answer it.
That is clear. But to whom should it be put down? The Prime Minister has not told us. Later he said:
As far as Questions are concerned and how they should be taken, either by the Home Secretary or by myself, I should like to see the Question on the Order Paper before deciding. But I do not shirk"—
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman here—
and will in no way shirk, a Question which deals with the Security of the State."—[Official Report, 19th November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 801–4.]
That is helpful, but to whom should the Questions be put in the first place—the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us now, because we are not clear. To whom should the Question be put? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us?
That is very helpful. Good. It is very helpful indeed. However, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree that he was wrong when he said that there had been no change. I am sure that the whole House knows that up to now Questions have been put to the Prime Minister except in the very odd case. There was one such case dealing with pay and rations or conditions of service and so on.
I will refer only briefly to the responsibility of the five Ministers. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I can understand hon. Members opposite wanting us to be very brief on this question. I will spare their feelings. Lord Denning's clear criticism of them is justified, and so I will not dwell on it. But I would remind the House that in the debate on 17th June, I asked why the Home Secretary was not there, because to my personal knowledge he was in the House until 1.30 in the morning replying to a debate in which I had taken part. I asked why the Home Secretary was not there but the Minister of Information or Press Affairs, or whatever he is called, was. I suspected then—and the Denning Report has done nothing to allay my suspicions—that the motive for that meeting was to find a means of getting out of a very awkward situation in a political sense, and that the Minister who handles Press affairs for the Government was there for that reason.
As to the Parliamentary propriety of drafting somebody else's personal statement, and, indeed, of sending the putative author out of the room for that purpose, this is, I think, a matter for the House, and I would also say, with respect, that it is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker.
A great deal of public discussion has centred round this question of guilt and innocence. Should a Minister not be deemed innocent until he has been proved guilty? Should not the five Ministers and the Prime Minister believe a colleague, however dubious the situation looked? Lord Denning's pronouncement here has led to considerable argument. He has, for example, been attacked in broadcasts by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) on this point—I heard him—by the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr Hogg), by the then Prime Minister in a much more restrained sound radio broadcast which I heard, and immoderately by the Attorney-General, who, whatever else one may think of him, has certainly tried—and I think he has succeeded—to live up to the standards set by his immediate predecessor.
I am not going to enter the argument which was so fully dealt with to the ladies of Warwick or Leamington by the right hon. and learned Gentleman because I feel that a great deal of the argument which has centred around Lord Denning's pronouncement tends to miss a simple point. It was Lord Attlee, in a few crisp remarks on television, who put the whole matter in its proper setting. He was asked if he would have handled this in the same way as the then Prime Minister. He said "No, I do not think I would." Asked what he would have done differently, he said "I would have handled it myself." Asked about the question of guilt and innocence, he simply said, "Ministers of the Crown should not go round with people of that kind."
This is it. It is not a question of guilt or innocence, whether or not before a criminal court, or a matter of the divorce law, which the right hon. Gentleman said had been merged into this. No one has a prescriptive right to a Ministerial appointment. No one can sue for compensation for loss of office. We can ask the Leader of the House about that. There was never any suggestion at all that the Leader of the House was guilty of anything—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—not in the legal sense which Lord Denning had in mind. A Minister's resignation can be required without any imputation about his character: simply because he does not fit into the team; even, perhaps unfairly, because he has lost public confidence; even, as in the case of the Leader of the House and about 13 others, because he became or was regarded, however unfairly, as a political embarrassment to the Government. I always thought that it was unfair, and I have made that clear many a time.
Before I sit down, I turn for a moment, as the Prime Minister did, to one or two wider issues. First—
I am sorry, but in this debate I shall be speaking only for myself. But I have very carefully studied what was said in the House by my three hon. Friends. I have also studied the total misrepresentation of them made by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West to 10 million people on television, and by a number of others. Perhaps the various hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite can sort it out amongst themselves.
I want to refer briefly to the 1921 Act, because I am sure that the whole House is concerned about certain aspects of the working of that Act. In the debate on the Radcliffe Tribunal, I expressed our doubts—and I think that I was speaking for many hon. Members opposite—arising partly, though not wholly, out of the very regrettable case of the imprisonment of the two journalists. Our doubts and anxiety about certain aspects of the 1921 Act still persist and, I expect, are still shared by hon. Members in different parts of the House.
In the debate on 7th May—the Vassall debate—I pressed for the appointment of a Select Committee. I want to repeat that proposal this afternoon, the more so as the Prime Minister clearly intends that more use, or more systematic use may have to be made of that Act in security matters. I therefore hope that the Home Secretary—whom we are glad to welcome to a security debate, and who, I gather, will reply—will express the Government's acceptance of the proposal for a Select Committee.
On the Prime Minister's proposal for a Security Commission I will only say that this proposal was first put by his predecessor, who had done me the courtesy to consult me first. His first point was the not unfair one that if there were to be a succession of spies or traitors being caught, and the desire and the need to see whether something had gone wrong with security—remembering the cases of Lonsdale, Blake and others—there was something to be said for not having ad hoc inquiries where the judge in charge might have to learn the whole machinery of administration, but of having a continuing body with some degree of continuing expertise.
While I did not oppose that suggestion, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that I warned him of the effect on public opinion if he were to suggest that there were so many traitors or spies being caught that we could not deal with the issues raised by conventional ad hoc tribunals, but needed a continuing tribunal with expertise—rather like the old Railway Rates Tribunal. People might be concerned. But we did not oppose that idea; the right hon. Gentleman will remember that I suggested a particular case that could have been referred to such a body.
I therefore say to the present Prime Minister that we are certainly prepared to discuss this proposal with him. It is always a matter for argument whether the catching of a spy or a traitor is a tribute the efficiency of the Security Service or something that speaks of inefficiency. That is very much a matter for argument, but we should not assume too readily that if more spies and traitors are caught it means that everything is all right; after all, if a number of escaped prisoners were caught outside Dartmoor tomorrow, we might say that it reflected great credit on the local police or warders but we might also ask why so many prisoners were at large.
The argument therefore cuts both ways, but if it is felt that either because the right hon. Gentleman knows that there are more spies in the pipeline—if that is the right phrase—or because he just feels as he has every right to, that these things can come up at any time under any Government—as, indeed, they have—we need this machinery, we are certainly prepared to discuss it with him, and give it our support.
I would only say, however, and I am sure that he will agree, that if this Commission is set up it is, as I have said before, only a long-stop to deal with cases that have gone wrong. It is only an improvement in the machinery for investigation. It is not in any sense a substitute for the measures that urgently need to be taken by the Executive of the day, whatever party may happen to be responsible for Government.
It was right that this debate should take place. It is right that when this House comes, as it is coming today, to close an unhappy and unedifying chapter in our history—and I hope that we are closing this chapter by this debate—we should probe those questions affecting our constitutional practice and our control security which have been thrown up and highlighted by this affair. This is what I have tried to do, and what, in his own way, the right hon. Gentleman has tried to do, and it is guarantees for the future on these questions that could be the best outcome—indeed, the only satisfactory outcome—of this debate.
This seems a good opportunity for one of those brief speeches, the need for which is expressed in one of the Motions on the Order Paper. I say "brief" speech because I believe that everyone is sick and tired of the events that have led up to this Report. On the other hand, I must in can dour say at once that if the abstentions on 17th June were in any degree responsible for the appointment of the Denning Inquiry, I am glad to have been one of the abstainers, because I believe that this Report has cleared the air; but I heartily concur with the sincere wish of the Leader of the Opposition that, after this debate, we shall hear no more of it.
First, was it the best form of inquiry? Its form has been criticised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, but I disagree with his criticism. The alternatives were a tribunal under the 1921 Act or a Select Committee of one or both Houses. But I think that a single, absolutely reliable judge—and I say judge because the weighing of evidence and its correct evaluation is a judge's daily task—was certainly the best type of fact finder in this case. After all, except for the one self-confessed liar, no one then alleged for a single moment, and no one has alleged since, that any other Minister was a liar, and it was therefore not a case of setting up a judge to inquire into that aspect.
Two of the properties of the tribunal procedure would have been particularly damaging here. First, there is the fact that the hearing before such a tribunal must normally be in public. And as my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said in another place in a recent debate:
If you want to find out what exactly has happened there may be advantages in…having an inquiry, or part of an inquiry, in private.
The other peculiar property of a tribunal that can be most damaging is the daily reporting of all the evidence, however damaging to a person's reputation, without that person having the immediate, the as it were almost simultaneous opportunity of replying, if only by way of in interim general statement.
…once it is clear…that the Press are blazoning about the allegations that are being made, speed is then of the essence for the person involved to be able to have his say, too."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 4th December, 1963; Vol. 253, c. 974 and 1001–2.]
Those were the words of my noble Friend Viscount Colville of Culross in another place, and I agree with them. No such speed is possible before a tribunal.
The opinion of a Select Committee or a Joint Select Committee, on the other hand, although its hearings are in private and the evidence is not published before the full Report is published, is bound, human nature being what it is, to be suspect by the public on party political grounds—not by other hon. Members but by the public—unless it happens to be unanimous; and allegations such as those with which Lord Denning had to deal had, I think, much better be refuted by an independent a-political court of appeal. Therefore, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) made an absolutely correct decision when, on 21st June, he asked Lord Denning to undertake this inquiry.
Next, what does Lord Denning say? I select only what I consider his two salient points. First, and above all, he says:
There is no reason to believe that there was any security leakage whatever.
The "cardinal principle" to bear in mind when considering the rôle of the security services, says Lord Denning, is that
their operations are to be used for one purpose, and one purpose only, namely the Defence of the Realm. They are not to be used so as to pry into any man's private conduct, or business affairs
unless they are subversive and I am sure that the whole House would agree with that.
Secondly he says:
There has been no lowering of public standards
but he adds that because men are "more vulnerable" today they must give "no cause for scandal".
That might be taken to imply—though I am sure that Lord Denning intended no such implication—that a public man can do what he likes so long as he is not found out, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) that the whole point here is that Ministers of the Crown should not be seen to be mixing in such circles as the ones which are described—pimps, prostitutes, drug-pedlars and Russian spies.
But why is a public man more vulnerable today? Because, says Lord Denning:
Scandalous information about well-known people has become a marketable commodity. True or false, actual or invented, it can be sold.…It is offered to those newspapers…who deal in this commodity.
Lord Denning says, and I hope correctly, that there are only a few of them. Thanks to the law of defamation, he went on, and to the rules of contempt of court, there remains of these inventions a part which is "not fit for publication." That part
goes round by word of mouth. It does not stop in Fleet Street.…It crosses the channel, even the Atlantic and back again, swelling all the time. Yet without the original purchase it might never have got started on its way.
I acquit the Opposition of any guilt in this respect. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), himself one of the most honourable of journalists, this Report is
the biggest one-man demolition job since Samson stretched out his arms at Gaza. The roof has crashed on the heads of the scandalmongers, the tale-bearers, the whisperers, the gloaters, and the retailers of juicy rumours.
I hope that it has crushed the life out of them so that they can go, with their purchasers, to the special hell reserved for them in the Inferno, for they do more damage to our national peace of mind and our international reputation than a hundred real-life Profumo's put together. Not surprisingly then, Lord Denning considers it "clear" that
something should be done to stop the trafficking in scandal for reward
and he puts his trust in the new Press Council. All I can say is that the old Press Council was about as much use as a sick headache. When I was in commerce there used to be a saying that there were three most useless things in the world. I shall not sully the ears of hon. Members with the first two, but the third was the annual vote of thanks to the staff. I would say that there should have been a fourth, the old Press Council. But perhaps Lord Denning's faith in the new one will be justified. I hope so, for the honour and good name of our country.
Like all hon. Members, I accept a great deal of the Denning Report, and especially Part IV. If I am rather more critical of some other parts of it I hope that that will not be taken to mean that I do not appreciate the job which Lord Denning has done, but I find myself in some disagreement with those who find this Report completely satisfactory.
The first point I turn to—the one on which Lord Denning does not throw much light—is the vital one—whether one can now draw an absolutely sharp distinction between inquiring into a man's private conduct and inquiring into matters affecting the defence of the realm. Paragraph 230 says:
No one can understand the rôle of the Security Service in the Profumo affair unless he realises the cardinal principle that their operations are to be used for one purpose, and one purpose only, the Defence of the Realm. They are not to be used so as to pry into any man's private conduct, or business affairs: or even into his political opinions, except in so far as they are subversive…
Lord Denning then refers to the fifth paragraph in Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe's directive.
That seems to be the crux of the matter; the matter which this House has to examine most carefully. It is a matter of extreme difficulty. I do not believe that the private conduct of the Secretary of State for War can be divorced from its possible effects on the security of the realm. I think that we are in a very difficult position as to how far we are entitled to inquire into people's private conduct if they hold public office, and that is a matter to which the House ought to address its attention.
I think that it was the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson)—who after all had great experience as a Minister of Defence—who said that we were engaged in a constant war of espionage and counter-espionage with the Communist countries, and that in this war every effort would be made to put people in a position in which they could be blackmailed. I therefore think that it is matter of great importance for this House to consider how far this clear distinction can any longer be valid, and if it is not valid, how far we are going to limit the severe consequences which might flow from accepting that security has to do with some aspect of some private lives when public figures are involved.
In point of fact, that is in another sense implicitly accepted in the Report, because Lord Denning says in paragraph 248 that had the security services been aware that Christine Keeler was having an affair with Mr. Profumo and Captain Ivanov, it was a matter which properly they ought to have reported to the Prime Minister. Lord Denning therefore accepts that certain private conduct was of a kind which would have involved the security services, and they should have reported it to the Prime Minister.
In fact, from the spring of 1961 the security services were aware that Stephen Ward might in certain circumstances be a risk. That appears in paragraph 243, and yet in spite of that they did not find out about Mr. Profumo, nor did this information reach the Prime Minister until too late. There is then, of course, the fact that the police were aware of possible dangers at least in January, 1963, and in paragraphs 80 to 85 Lord Denning is critical of the fact that no further investigations were made by the police.
There is one interesting point arising from paragraph 80. This paragraph recounts that the Marylebone Police took a statement from Christine Keeler. In that statement she alleges that she was asked to discover from Mr. Profumothe date on which certain atomic secrets were to be handed to West Germany by the Americans. That was at the time of the Cuban crisis.
Lord Denning is apparently convinced that Mr. Profumo broke off his association with Miss Keeler at the end of 1961. It was suggested in the last debate, in an intervention by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) that he had seen the parties together in October, 1962. I understand from a report in the Daily Telegraph that when he said that he did not intend to imply that Mr. Profumo was there, but apparently there were present Miss Keeler, Dr. Ward, and others, who were talking in some way, or doing something in Dr. Ward's flat, which led him to inform the security services. I think that there is no escaping from the fact that in these circumstances there was a very grave error on the part of the security services and that they should have informed their superiors, interviewed Miss Keeler, as Lord Denning suggests, and taken further steps to find out what was going on.
I gather that this may have in fact been the view of the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) because, in an intervention in my speech on 17th June, when I suggested that he had not seen the Secretary of State for War, he said:
Up to the statement there was no question of security
that is up to the Profumo statement—
because if his statement was true his friendship with this woman had lasted for five weeks, 18 months before. Of course, now that we know what he said was untrue, then the security risk arises."—[Official Report, 17th June, 1963; Vol. 67, c. 81.]
This clearly implies, and it is true, of course, that the personal conduct of Mr. Profumo had put him in the position in which he might become a security
risk, if he had not become one, and was a proper matter for security investigation.
I would certainly agree that when the security services, either directly or in consultation with the C.I.D. make inquiries into what are normally private matters affecting private conduct but only become of public interest because of the office the man holds, they must clearly act with extreme discretion, and it is doubly important to know to whom they should report, because what action is taken on their report is the important point.
In this case, it appears from Lord Denning's Report, that the late Prime Minister's private secretary was informed about various matters and in paragraph 262 it is recorded that he actually said at that time that
he would tell the Chief Whip and the Prime Minister".
But this was not regarded, again, as a matter which involved calling for a report from the security services. Again, I think that this was an error of judgment, and I do not share Lord Denning's view that there should be no need for anxiety about the state of security.
The second point that I want to turn to is the conduct of the Ministers. The Prime Minister this afternoon referred to paragraphs 285 and 286. First, he said that Lord Denning's remarks in these paragraphs did not refer themselves to the interview which Mr. Profumo had with the Ministers immediately before his statement to the House of Commons. If I am wrong about this, I hope that the Prime Minister will correct me. But surely they do. If the Prime Minister will look at page 58, paragraph 181 A(5) he will find that Lord Denning repeats exactly the argument which is given in paragraphs 285 and 286, and that this is in the context of the interview between Ministers and Mr. Profumo. Admittedly it refers not only to that interview, but it was clearly in his mind, because sub-paragraph (6) of paragraph 181 refers to it.
Lord Denning's argument on the face of it, appears to be that the Minister should have inquired into the question not as to whether Mr. Profumo had in fact committed adultery with Miss Keeler, but whether reasonable people would believe that he had done so. I find some difficulty in knowing what Lord Denning means. In para 181 he uses the analogy of the civil law—I am no expert on this—but if the civil law of England really says that a wife is entitled to leave her husband if she believes that he has committed adultery with some one and goes on believing it even after it has been conclusively proved that he has not committed adultery, then, all I can say is that the law ought to be altered. I cannot think that he means that.
What I think Lord Denning is trying to say is that the Secretary of State for War should not have consorted with people like Dr. Ward and Miss Keeler. If it is argued that Miss Keeler was a different sort of girl when he knew her, that is contradicted by the report from the security services, because, even in January, 1961, she was "heavily painted and considerably overdressed". This is a valid point.
I agree that the Secretary of State for War has not only to be above suspicion but should also set an example and it becomes impossible to expect that people lower down in the Services will not put themselves in an embarrassing position if the Secretary of State for War himself is put in a position which gives rise to security risks. I think that that is the point that Lord Denning was trying to make, but that is not the point that he makes. What he seems to say is that it was irrelevant for particular inquiries to be made about the Minister whether adultery had been committed or not.
Ministers have to resign from time to time because through indiscretions they put themselves in a position in which their authority is damaged. But no one surely has ever suggested that a Minister ought to resign on grounds which are proved to be totally untrue. I would say, therefore, that Lord Denning again is evading the issue. Lord Denning should have said that the mere fact that Mr. Profumo was associating with Dr. Ward and Miss Keeler would in itself be ground for making it at least possible that he was not discharging his duty as Secretary of State for War. But, of course, this is a judgment on his private life. That is the point, but it has never been expressed, so far as I can see, in the Denning Report. To say, on the one hand, that we should not inquire into people's private lives, and to say again that people should not be forced out of public life because of rumours and innuendo, yet to say that it was of little importance for the Prime Minister to inquire whether or not adultery had taken place, is a very queer argument.
I share the doubt about the gullibility of the Ministers. They were certainly unduly gullible and I share also astonishment at the way in which personal statements to this House were drawn up, without the person who had to make the statement being present, and then shown to the Prime Minister who made a few drafting corrections, after which they are given to the House. This is most extraordinary procedure.
Finally, I want to refer to a suggestion made by the Prime Minister for the future. I had not heard of it before today and on the face of it I do not like it. To begin with I hold the view that the Executive ought to discharge its functions. I think that we have got into a good deal of trouble by trying to confuse this issue. Secondly, I do not think that a judge is a particularly good person to inquire into security, and if he is to be assisted by two ex-senior officers and two ex-senior civil servants. I have doubts about it. I doubt whether they are the people to probe into the efficiency of their own services, and it is quite possible that they will be out of touch with modern developments. I have some doubt, therefore, about the composition of the Tribunal, and I do not see why security cannot be treated as a matter for the different Departments concerned and the responsibility for it taken by the heads of the Departments and ultimately by the Prime Minister.
We must have this question of the Prime Minister's responsibility cleared up. I am certain that in the Profumo case the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) thought that he was responsible—and he was right. Again I refer to his interventions in my speech on 17th June. I said:
The Prime Minister is head of security in this country.
The then Prime Minister intervened, but he never denied this. I then repeated it. I said,
he is head of security in this country.
The Prime Minister again intervened and said:
Up to the statement"—
that is, the Profumo statement—
there was no question of security."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 80–81.]
He surely would have said, had he believed it, "I was not responsible." But he did not. He not only thought he was responsible; he must have been responsible, for breaches of security, or possible breaches of security—at least by members of the Government. There must be an ultimate responsibility resting with him. I suggest that the matter depends upon the degree of the offence and the status or rank of the person concerned.
I am glad to see that the present Prime Minister agrees with that. That being so, at first sight, I repeat, I am rather suspicious of the suggestion that has been put forward for a new body to be set up to watch over security.
Further, it does not seem to me that errors involving a breach of security should be made questions for a non-Parliamentary body. Speaking off-the-cuff, I should like to know why a committee of this House, with some expert advice at its disposal, should not do this job. In my opinion, we should keep such matters within the Government and the House of Commons, if possible. Furthermore, we have got into considerable trouble by setting up inquiries to deal with two quite separate points. Lord Denning's inquiries illustrate that point. He was inquiring on the one hand into inefficiency in our security services and, on the other, into general allegations against the conduct of people in public life.
I regard the question of inefficiency as a matter for the Executive, subject to control by this House. We may have to depart from that, but let us not do so until we are convinced that a strong case has been made out, and, if we do, let us ensure that within the Government there is the correct machinery to deal with it. Let us try the correct procedures of this House before we call in judges, and retired admirals, generals and civil servants.
Then there is the other type of cases, where allegations are made about Bank Rate leaks or bribery or corruption over Government contracts. Great anxiety has been expressed at the fact that these inquiries drag in all sorts of people. They are flung into the limelight, and allegations are made against them without any charges being formulated against them. A great deal of the mud is liable to stick. This is a worrying point, to which the House should address its attention.
Wherever possible we should use normal procedures. We have the laws of libel, and I would like to know, at the end of the debate, whether we can take it that Ministers who feel that they have been libelled or slandered will in future take action through the ordinary courts. I have understood that there was a feeling in the Government that that should not be so. I have heard it said—probably without authority—that one Minister resigned from the Government so as to be free to take action. But in this case the Attorney-General was continually discussing with Mr. Profumo the question whether or not he should take action for libel. I therefore take it that in future Ministers will feel themselves free to resort to the law of libel or slander as being the first defence against precise and identifiable attacks upon their integrity.
Then we have the class of innuendo and rumour in which there is nothing that can be caught on to. How do we deal with that? I began by expressing sympathy with the views of those who wanted some other procedure, but I find it difficult to say precisely what the new procedure should be. But might not we have something like a Parliamentary inquirer? I mean something different from an Ombudsman—who acts only for individuals, as I understand it. We would want a person who could act for Parliament in a matter in respect of which Parliament feels that some inquiry should be made. That person would be enabled, in private, to make some preliminary assessment as to whether there was any substance in the rumours and, as a result, either to report that there was no substance in them, or try, if possible, to get the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action in the criminal courts.
There may be a class of case in which this latter course is not possible. There again, we may have no choice but to continue the present procedure of inquiry. But I hope that hon. Members will agree that my suggestions would greatly narrow the type of case which could be dealt with by a general inquiry. There is something to be said for having a preliminary inquiry carried out by somebody under the control of Parliament, and carried out in private.
Like other hon. Members, I hope that this will be the end of this matter. As I have said, Lord Denning has not thrown as much light as I would have hoped upon the way in which our security services and our police should deal with what I regard as a new situation—theconduct of certain Ministers possibly constituting a danger to the realm. To my mind they made serious mistakes.
Secondly, I find it somewhat difficult to understand what Lord Denning expected the five Ministers to do. The fundamental fault is that the Secretary of State for War should ever have been associated with this kind of thing. For the future, there is something to be said for a Parliamentary inquiry. I hope that we shall not set up a special committee on sesurity, or have anything in the nature of a Ministry of Security. I am in favour of security being left, in the first place, to the Ministries concerned, subject to the overruling power of the Prime Minister, and of cases of rumour and innuendo being dealt with as far as possible through the law of libel in the criminal courts. If we can also have the assistance of a Parliamentary inquiry, the type of inquiry that we have suffered from in the past need be used only as a last resort.
It is rather surprising that it should be the Leader of the Liberal Party who is concerned that the security services and Lord Denning showed too great respect for people's private lives. But it is not surprising that it should have been the Leader of the Opposition who said that he had no wish to rake over the old embers—because so much of what he said on a previous occasion had been proved absolutely wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman and his party have always claimed to be concerned only with the security issue, but it seems to me that they have been using the security issue as a flag of convenience to sail under, and that their true colours have been the pirate flag of scandal. According to the book written by one of the right hon. Gentleman's adherents in another place called The Profumo Affair, when the right hon. Gentleman heard of Mr. Profumo's resignation and a Transport House official telephoned him in Ottawa and asked him what he should say about the affair,
I told him"—
said the right hon. Gentleman—
'No comment—in glorious technicolour'. And that's what I am telling you: no com ment—in wide screen.
I think that that sums up the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. In any event he has been hoist by his own petard of convenience—because the security issue has come to pieces in his hands.
He complained that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) was gambling with the nation's security, but it was the right hon. Gentleman himself who gambled. He gambled that a security scandal would be unearthed, and he lost.
—that we should never know whether or not there was an actual security leak; not a security loss. We shall never know, he said—four times. Did he really believe that there was a serious danger of an actual leak when he made that speech on 17th June? Presumably he did, because obviously it would be an act of fearful irresponsibility to disseminate fears which he did not share himself. Did he still believe there was any real danger of an actual security leak today? Evidently not, because he barely mentioned it.
I said four times on 17th June—I take that from the hon. Gentleman I do not count bits of my speeches, but if he says so I accept it from him—and I said once today that we shall never know whether there was any loss of security. I said that I did not accept that there had been; there was no reason to think that there has been. But it was a thing we cannot know because the security services were not aware of the relationship at that time. But there was a continuing condition of security risk. This cannot be denied. It was said, in fact, by the Prime Minister and a number of members of the Government at that time.
The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to state this four times. Does he seriously believe now that there was a serious possibility of a serious leak?
He does not believe so; therefore he does not make this statement today.
First of all, the idea that there was an actual security leak was contrary to all probability and reason. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that it is quite impossible—as I think Lord Peter Wimsey once pointed out—to prove a negative. A lot of many less admirable people have traded on that fact. Complaining that people cannot prove that they did not do something, or did not believe something, or that something has not happened, has been the stock technique of inquisitors and scare mongers through the ages from Torquemada and Ximenes to Martin Dies, McCarthy and Jenner. For the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to take the perilous step of progressing from the allegation of a notional security risk to the possibility that there had been an actual security leak was to put himself in very curious company.
This is a very silly argument. The hon. Gentleman knows that what I said in the House—and this was all I said—and it has been agreed by every Minister who has spoken on this matter—was that there was a standing condition of security risk which was allowed to continue. I said it again this afternoon. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman this: does he or does he not agree that there was a continuing security risk?
I do not agree. The security services found as soon as Ivanov left the country on 28th January, long before the right hon. Gentleman made any public pronouncement, that there was no security risk—if there was one before—of which there is some doubt.
I will pass now to an argument even less plausible than the idea that there was an actual security leak. It is the theory that was adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman on 17th June in one paragraph. Perhaps it was an escape route from his idea that there had been a security leak. It was dealt with in some detail by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in an article in the Sunday Telegraph on 29th September. This was the idea which is put in paragraph 15 of the Denning Report, where it states:
It has been suggested to me that Ivanov filled a new rôle in Russian technique. It was to divide the United Kingdom from the United States by these devious means. If Ministers or prominent people can be placed in compromising situations, or made the subject of damaging rumour, or the Security Service can be made to appear incompetent, it may weaken the confidence of the United States in our integrity and reliability. So a man like Captain Ivanov may take every opportunity of getting to know Ministers or prominent people—not so much to obtain information from them.…—but so as to work towards destroying confidence.
Lord Denning goes on:
If this were the object of Captain Ivanov with Stephen Ward as his tool he succeeded only too well.
The fact that we heard so little of this argument before Lord Denning's Report destroyed the other Opposition argument on security is an indication in itself of its lack of credibility. But its violent implausibility can be best demonstrated by assuming for a moment its truth. Let us assume, therefore, that the Russians have achieved the first part of their operation by compromising Mr. Profumo with Miss Keeler and Captain Ivanov. But on this theory that in itself was no good. The important thing was to reveal it to the Americans. But what did the Russians do? Nothing. The uninitiated might have expected that the Cuban crisis would have been a suitable opportunity for this to be revealed. There was a grave danger that America might be divided from Europe and even that the world might be blown up. Ivanov was particularly active, but he did not disclose Mr. Profumo's difficulty. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman believes that the Russians were waiting for a more serious crisis before they revealed it.
But what happened? It was eventually revealed as a result of Mr. Johnny Edgcombe's shooting affray in Wimpole Mews. One can assume that Mr. Johnny Edgcombe is a member of the Russian secret service. But even then everything was not brought out. It came out eventually because of the activities of the hon. Member for Dudley and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, neither of whom seems to have noticed that their theory involves the absurdity not only that the Russians used a West Indian gangster but that both hon. Gentlemen were, witting or unwitting, tools of Russian security machinations. Someone ought to save the right hon. Gentleman from his own theories.
I believe that Parliament should pay more attention to liberty and privacy than to security—something about which, inevitably, Parliament cannot know much. Parliament should not traffic much in security risks. The American Legislature has shown itself at its worst during the last 25 years when it has been scared over security risks and the other McCarthyite trappings. Practically everyone, or a great many people—and a lot of great men—could be described in some sense as a security risk. Even Mr. Gladstone, by trying to reclaim fallen women on the streets, laid himself open to damaging rumour and blackmail. It seems to me, on the apparent view of Lord Denning that what people may reasonably believe rather that what actually happened is what matters, that Gladstone might have been proved guilty, even though he were innocent.
It seems to me that the danger of the Profumo case has been that private lives might become the normal stuff of politicians, and it was—[Hon. Members: "And the Press?"] I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not saying that. He must know that as the case is sub judice I am unable to comment.
I was very careful to keep entirely off the hon. Gentleman over anything to do with that case, as I think he will agree.
There was no damage this time, because Lord Denning named no names and did not go as far away from security as was feared, although I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley that in some respects he went further than he should have done. But it was no thanks to the Opposition that this danger was averted.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) all called for the publication of the Denning Report in full before they knew what was in it, even though it might have contained rumours and names. So much for their claim that they were concerned only with security issues. The chief contribution of the Liberal Party to the maintenance of liberal values in this country was the squalid allegation by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) that two other Ministers would be involved. It seems that the Liberal Party has inherited the name, if not the tradition.
It is the third time in a few years that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have made serious allegations over cases and against individuals. One of these was an allegation by the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition—the Vassall case. On two other occasions they have been by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself—over the Bank Rate and over this case. Each time—
The hon. Gentleman keeps throwing out these allegations. On the Bank Fate tribunal the present Lord Chancellor said that there was every case for an inquiry, and that was all I asked for. He said that an inquiry was necessary. Will the hon. Member now say which accusation I have made against anybody this year? I have dealt with the Bank Rate inquiry. The hon. Gentleman is talking about the events of this year. He said that allegations were made twice. I have dealt with one of them. The second is Presumably this year. Even the hon. Member can understand that. May I ask him which is the allegation to which he refers?
On the Bank Rate issue I am referring to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made in the House that Lord Poole was a man with vast city interests. If that was not a smear, I do not know what is.
The allegation to which I am referring in this year was, in fact, two sets of allegations. In one the right hon. Gentleman repeated four times that there might have been an actual security leak. If that was not an allegation against Profumo, I do not know what is. He also made an allegation against the former Prime Minister that he had been gambling with the nation's security. On all these three occasions, subsequent judicial inquiry proved these rumours to be hopelessly false. [Hon. Members: "No."] At least we can say that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his Deputy have these things in common.
I must spend a minute or two replying to the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour)—not, may I hasten to add, to defend myself but to defend the Party of which I have the honour to be a member.
May I take up the question of what is involved in the issues raised in the Denning Report. May I quote:
This is a very good question, but the important thing is to know exactly how horrible it is. A Secretary of State for War, holds secrets, responsible for the lives of men, expected to pursue policies impartially and with courage, can't afford to have dingy companions or squalid vices. It's intolerable that a man in this position should have behaved in this way. It's tragic that he shouldn't have been found out, and then thereafter he should have lied and lied and lied…lied to his friends, lied to his family, lied to his colleagues, lied to his solicitor, lied to the House of Commons. I cannot imagine a greater blow to public morality or integrity than that. It's silly to talk about not being interested in Mr. Profumo's morals, Mr. Profumo's morals are a great public issue.
Well of course there's a security problem, don't be so silly.
May I ask the hon. Member whether he accepts that statement or not?
It depends on what the hon. Member means by "accept". As far as I can see from the earlier debate this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition says that when one accepts something one has to agree with every word of it. This is not what acceptance means to me. I agree with many things which my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said and which the hon. Member read.
As he knows, those were the words of the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and that is why he skated over his answer.
We, my hon. Friend and myself, have said nothing like that. When the stories about Mr. Profumo first came to me a few days after Christmas my first reactions were to dismiss them, but there were one or two things in the stories which could not be overlooked. I was inhibited on 17th June, as was my right hon. Friend, because two cases before the courts were pending. There was the case of Dr. Ward and another case, which has gone before the courts, in which I was subpoenaed. In that situation we could not tell all we knew, but I can now tell the House right away that the first thing which convinced me that there was something in the story was when I was told that there were three letters. They were said to have been written on War Office notepaper. That could have been made up. But what could not have been made up or imagined, except by someone who spoke the truth, arose from the way in which they were signed. They were signed "J". Mr. Profumo and I corresponded quite a deal, and I went back to look at some of the correspondence to confirm what I thought. Time and time again Mr. Profumo had written to me signing his letter "J". This fact could not have been cooked up.
A few days later, early in January, I was told a story—the story which is re-referred to in the Denning Report—about the use of Miss Keeler by Dr. Ward, presumably at the suggestion of Captain Ivanov, that information should be sought about the supply of atomic weapons to Germany. I did not believe this. It sounded incredible. I dismissed it and refused to do anything about it for one simple reason: it seemed to me that if it were true, Captain Ivanov was an incompetent, for it would be stupid to use this uneducated young woman to ask such questions. While he might have drilled her to ask the questions he wanted answered, how could he be certain that the replies were accurate. She might be given sound answers, but how could Ivanov be sure that what she conveyed was what she was told. I therefore dismissed it, and I told Lord Denning about this story and the fact that I had dismissed it.
As the stories grew in volume it became clear that there was something which needed to be examined. What did I do? On 10th March I went to my right hon. Friend and discussed with him the action which I should take. I made it clear that I would retain my own judgment and decide what I should do but that I wanted to discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend, who was Leader of the Party. No word of this got into the Press.
I then went to a friend who is a lawyer. I am prepared to tell right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite the name of the lawyer. I consulted him about what action I should take. Should I go to Mr. Profumo and tell him what I knew? He advised me against that because of what had happened to me over the Kuwait debate. Perhaps I might tell the House what happened on that occasion, Mr. Profumo was party to my receiving information about that operation, and the debate took place in a form to which I agreed in order to widen the reply. I went to the War Office in that week, and in the room of the present Secretary of State for War and, with the present Secretary of State for War there, I went over in detail the questions which I intended to ask. I was then telephoned by Mr. Profumo and again went over with him the questions which I intended to ask. On the Friday, when the debate took place, he went back on all that had been agreed. I made no complaint about it then and I make no complaint now, but if it had happened once the chances were that it would happen again.
There was another matter. I got to know that the motor car of a very prominent member of the Government had been used. What did I do? Did I go to the Press? No. I went to see the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison), a friend of the Minister, and told him about it. I did not ask him if it was true. I said, "As a friend, I heard this." The message came back, "It is all right. It is not true." Did I do any more about the matter? No. And I did not go to the Press. On 7th June the hon. Member for Maldon telephoned me and said he was distressed. The Minister got on the telephone and said that what he had said was untrue and that, in fact, his car was used. Did I go to the Press? No. The Press came to me, but I would not make a statement; and if hon. Members care to look in the Daily Express issue of the following day they will see that I was a party only to the extent of endorsing the Minister's statement that he had not been guilty of any dishonourable conduct.
All the way through this operation I had made one firm resolution. I decided it was not my job to carry out investigations. But if information came to me I must pass it to those who should know. That is exactly what I did in this case. From the first moment that I heard anything about the affair in January I said to those who talked to me one of two things—either go to the Police or go to a solicitor. Later, when the story developed, I went to the police myself. I telephoned Commander Townsend at his home late one night. On every single occasion that I had any information of a character that might lead to or represent a breach of the law I went to the police, but otherwise I told no one, except to seek advice. And when it was a question of the honour of an hon. Member opposite being involved, I went to the hon. Member concerned.
On three separate occasions after March Mr. Profumo came and spoke to me because there was also the case of a young man who, because he has been before the courts and has been acquitted, I will not mention. In that case I felt that I could not go to the right hon. Member concerned, and so I went to the Secretary of State for Air and the present Secretary of State for War and told them about it. During the Whitsun week before Mr. Profumo resigned he came to me in the Lobby outside the Chamber and said, "I wish you had found it possible to come to me over this case". I replied, 'Well, Jack, you understand why I could not". I added, "After the Kuwait operation, I did not trust you, and that was the basis of the reason why I did not come to you first". We parted as very good friends. [Laughter.] That is true. These words will be read by Mr. Profumo and he can deny them if he wishes.
Mr. Profumo came to me and expressed his regret that I had not found it possible to talk to him. I am in the process of telling the House exactly what happened in this and other cases. Thus, from my point of view—and needless to say I have given lots of thought to this matter—I have no regrets at all. I cannot find in my conscience that there is anything there I did which I should not have done or anything that I did not do that I should have done.
My interest in security, like my interest in defence, was not something new. Over the years I have interested myself in security and I have attended many of the security trials. For example, I went to the Lonsdale trial, although I did not see many hon. Members there, and after the Lonsdale trial I said in the House what I have said many times
before: that from my point of view security was a part of defence. This is exactly what I put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and this represents the basis of the terms on which we discussed the matter. We agreed that security was as important as the manpower problem, Blue Streak, Blue Water, the TSR2 and the rest. In 1961 I said in the House something that I have repeated many times:
On the many occasions when I have worried the House with my views on defence…I have always thought that this subject transcends political consideration."—[Official Report, 23rd March, 1961; Vol. 637, c. 741.]
I have always held that view. What happened since the beginning of the year is that in all my conversations with my right hon. Friends we have discussed the Profumo problem in exactly those terms. We have discussed it in terms of a problem that had to be tackled. The question is how. In paragraph 15 Lord Denning expresses a view which has my complete agreement. I will not weary the House by quoting it because the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central dealt with this matter. I believe that the possibility of the Soviet Union, the Eastern bloc, obtaining their will by a hot war is not on. I believe that the techniques have changed and I have always believed—and I have repeated this frequently in this House and elsewhere—that Captain Ivanov was a Russian intelligence officer and not just a diplomat—Lord Denning agrees. Ivanov was a highly trained gentleman with impeccable English, a knowledge of about-town habits, a bridge player who mixed in all sorts of circles and so on. He was in his habits almost English. I thought the same of Captain Lonsdale, and I said the same about him. I did not hold the view that Captain Ivanov or Captain Lonsdale were doing anything else than carrying out orders given to them.
I do not believe that Captain Lonsdale was engaged in an operation to pass on information which he got from Mr. Houghton or Miss Gee. Nor do I believe that Captain Ivanov was engaged in running around the hot spots of London to make love to Miss Keeler. Lord Denning points this out. He does not believe that Captain Ivanov had possessed this young woman. He ex- presses the view that he was an intelligence officer. If he was not, then we must accept—and this is where the argument of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central breaks down—that the Russians paid his petty cash and allowed him to make huge losses at bridge and visit the hot spots without any purpose. He was there for a purpose all right, but I do not know what.
This problem faced me from last January, and I do not think that it has yet been fully considered. Let us assume for a moment that Mr. Profumo had not had any illicit relations with this girl. Supposing that on 21st March he did tell the truth. I must confess that on the day when I came near to getting on my feet in the House I realised the short shrift I would have got had I started to ask questions. However, let us assume that he had told the truth—the truth that was accepted by five right hon. Members of this House, all men of great experience, and endorsed by the Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker. What were they saying?
Before answering that, let us accept that Lord Denning discovered what sort of a girl she was. One need only read paragraphs 58, 129 and 161 of his Report to discover that. He says in each paragraph that most people seeing her picture would infer her avocation. Yet we are asked to believe that Mr. Profumo was meeting her quite accidentally—that is, a young woman about whom Lord Denning says, that one look was enough to know what she was. And yet he met her quite innocently on six different occasions!
So why were they meeting? Was it to learn algebra or play chess? Was it to learn knitting? What was the reason? What was she doing? If we are asked to accept that Mr. Profumo told the truth—a truth which was accepted with alacrity by five right hon. Gentleman opposite—and that on six occasions she had gone to a house of assignation, we are then asked to believe that on each of those six occasions she was there accidentally. This was against all chances of possibility and, after all, the five right hon. Gentlemen in question are not children. They are men of the world. Did they not think it rather odd that the meetings should take place with this young girl? If, in fact, it was not for any illicit purpose, was there not something to worry about from the security angle? What I will agree about is that as this story developed the circumstances changed, but here was the pattern—that Captain Ivan off had been running round London for the better part of two years, and if the Russians kept him going on a fairly high cost surely they got something for their money.
I want to draw attention to something else in the case of Captain Lonsdale, and I said this on the night of 23rd March. I believe that one of the most serious things that happened in the Lonsdale case—far transcending in seriousness the information he got from Mr. Houghton and Miss Gee—was the premature release of information from Bow Street that Lonsdale had been arrested. I asked in debates on that occasion that there should be an investigation. Again, in this case, something else happened. When I saw Mr. Ward I knew that he was not telling me all the truth. I had four of five hard facts in my possession, which I later put to Lord Denning, about which there was no possibility of error. One was that I knew when Captain Ivanov and Mr. Ward had last met.
Mr. Ward lied to me. He told that he last saw Captain Ivanov in December, but I knew they met in mid-January and this is borne out by the Denning Report. Ivanov was not due to leave Great Britain, and yet some time between the 22nd and the 29th he gets a tip-off. In other words, exactly what happened in this case had happened in other cases. Somebody had tipped him off and he was gone, just as there was premature release of information about the Lonsdale case.
If any hon. Member thinks that the Denning Report contains the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I beg him to think again. If I were what the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central said I was, I would mention names. I will not do this, but I will now tell the House what happened when I went to see Lord Denning. I was sitting on these benches at 3.25 p.m. on 27th June when I was handed a letter. It had come by hand from Lord Denning who asked me if possible to see him that afternoon. I had not intervened when the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) had made this announce- ment on 21st June in the House about the inquiry because I am in favour of the right hon. Gentleman and the present Prime Minister having all the inquiries they want. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman wants an inquiry and he is responsible for what comes after it, that is his business.
I had read the terms of reference. Therefore, when I opened the letter, I was a little surprised, because I thought I remembered the terms of reference. So I went to the Vote Office and obtained a copy of Hansard to check my memory, because I thought that the terms of reference had something to do with events leading to the resignation of Mr. Profumo and with security. But in his letter to me, Lord Denning said:
As I expect you know, I have been entrusted by the Prime Minister with the task of inquiring into reports which are circulating which affect the honour and integrity of public life in this country.
I suggest that Lord Denning was never asked to do anything of the kind.
When I saw Lord Denning I made it plain to him that if these were his terms of reference he was not going to report in July. Indeed I asked in which July he would be reporting, because he certainly had a job. Does one go backwards, forwards, sideways, or where does one go in such a case? I gave to Lord Denning the information which was contained in the memorandum which I handed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and which went to the then Prime Minister.
I would challenge the right hon. Member for Bromley. He was not in the House a moment ago when the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central was speaking, but I would challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say that there was a single word in that memorandum which would support any word spoken by the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central, that I had any interest other than the question of security.
I gave a factual account of what happened as objectively and as honestly as I could. I leaned over backwards to be fair. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Bromley on 17th June misquoted me by saying that I had said that Ward has said that no impropriety had taken place. He is slightly mistaken. What Ward said to me was that "as far as he knew" there had been no impropriety. He was not there all the time. I gave Lord Denning a copy of the memorandum and he asked whether I minded a shorthand writer being there or a secretary. I said, "No, anything you like;—any questions you like."
At the end Lord Denning asked my opinion—he asked me who only wanted to talk about security—whether I thought he should inquire into the Argyll case and he mentioned a Minister by name. I said, "My Lord, this has nothing to do with me. My sole interest from the start of this story has been security. I know nothing about the Argyll case. I have not read about it." Lord Denning then asked me about another case and another Minister. I gave exactly the same reply. I said, 'I know nothing of the circumstances. I can offer no opinion. I have come here to tell you the thoughts in my mind and the words I have written on that paper. I am concerned wholly and solely with security."
I regret having to do this, but I think that it is due to my hon. Friends and certainly to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I give the House my word of honour that at no stage from 10th March, when I first spoke to him, right up to the time when this news broke was there any concern in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition than this issue of security. If hon. Members want another small fact, I can tell them about the steps which my right hon. Friend took to make sure that the carbon papers were destroyed and that no other person knew except four people, the Chief Whip, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and myself.
This is the test of it all. If we were what is now politically convenient for some hon. Members to say we were, would we have kept this to ourselves? This is the test. Is there any other secret that right hon. Gentlemen opposite can claim they kept? Even the proposal which the Prime Minister put to us this afternoon about a security scheme has been in the Press in the last few days. Not one single word of this went to any Press men or anywhere else, because we were concerned about one thing only. I have been in the House long enough to entitle me to ask hon. Members to accept that I was concerned only with security as part of the defence of this country as a whole.
I should like now to deal with the right hon. Member for Bromley. I have always tried to keep security as an issue above party, and that was the main point of what I was saying earlier. I should still like to have this matter examined above party and I have said to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley and to the Prime Minister they ought to be able to have all the inquiries into security they want. My charge against the right hon. Gentleman is that he was dilatory. He has never seen the problem as a whole. He has seen the problem as isolated pieces.
To go back to the Lonsdale case again, after Lonsdale, Houghton and Gee and the rest were sent to prison. The Prime Minister came to the House and then went off to Bermuda and we then get the Romer Report, but before we have that Report we get the Blake case and then we have the Radcliffe Report—an excellent Report. Then later we have the Vassall case. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to steep himself in the atmosphere of the Vassall case and to abandon such an approach for good and all.
The right hon. Member for Bromley, whose personal integrity I acknowledged on 17th June and which I acknowledged again today, was in tremendous difficulties. He suddenly lost his head and tried to take a swipe at my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench and put them in the position, whether they liked it or not, of having to ask for an inquiry—an inquiry which they were going to get. So on 14th November, 1962, we had a debate on the Vassall Tribunal. I am now putting the arguments for myself. If, in fact, I was actuated by any motive other than the one that I am claiming, I would have run along with the crowd, but I did not. If hon. Members will look at the report of the debate on 14th November, 1962, they will see that I opposed the setting up of the Vassall Tribunal, with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr.Grossman). We put down Amendments. The Vassall Tribunal was a dirty, shabby, political trick. I thought it would bring disaster to the Government—and it did.
What happened? I went day after day to the Vassall Tribunal. I do not remember seeing many hon. Members opposite there, but day after day I went there. As I said in the debate on 7th May, 1963, what saved the day in the Vassall case was the wisdom of Lord Radcliffe. In the first ten days half of Fleet Street would have been in Brixton if the matter had been left to the right hon. Member for Bromley, but Lord Radcliffe's wisdom prevented that. So something which started in a nasty way again indicated the way that we should go.
The way that I suggest we should go is this. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has got the germ of an idea. The security forces, as I have already said, are part of the defence of this country and, therefore, when something goes wrong, on the same day, within the hour, the Prime Minister should do exactly the same as he would do if he were commanding in the field. He should set up a court of inquiry, which is held either under the Army Act, or the Ar Force Act, or the Naval Discipline Act, to ascertain the facts, he laying down the terms of reference, the proceedings being reported confidentially to him, the President if necessary taking evidence on oath, not necessarily to form an opinion but to establish the facts.
If that had happened, we would not have waited weeks for the appointment of the Romer Committee which in turn was "leaked" from the Prime Minister's office to the Press. At every successive stage the story was "leaked" from the Daily Mail as to who the chairman and members of the board were going to be. We might have got on to something. But in the Lonsdale trial there were certainly some other spies at work. This is what ought to happen in all these cases. As soon as something is thought to have gone wrong, even before we start to call each other names, before we start to apportion blame, we need to establish the facts so that if something has gone wrong it can be put right.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On the question of the Portland case, I went to that trial but I am not conscious of any evidence that other spies were operating. I thought that after that trial Vassall was instructed by his masters not to continue his activities, and it vas when he started up again, I think in March, 1962, that he was traced within about a month.
Quitetrue. It is true that after that, Vassall was laid off for a considerable while. If the hon. Gentleman went to the Old Bailey and listened to the case he will have heard the evidence of Lonsdale, Miss Gee and Mr. Houghton. It seems to me wildly improbable that the expense in terms of money, time and risk involved in the setting up of the radio station at Ruislip, the micro-dotting station, was done for the benefit of Mr. Houghton and Miss Gee. It is absolute nonsense.
There is, of course, the other fact which came out in the trial, that signals were being sent after they were arrested. As I said on 23rd March, 1961, I was absolutely certain that what we heard at the Lonsdale trial was only part of the story. Whether I am right or wrong is a matter for the security services. What I am saying is that as soon as Lonsdale was arrested there ought to have been a court of inquiry into the facts; and likewise, as soon as Vassall was arrested we should not have had to wait days for the setting up of the Cunningham Committee and weeks before the Radcliffe Committee got going. There ought to have been a court of inquiry within a matters of hours.
That is what the Prime Minister should do. It has been said that this would be a court of the Star Chamber. It does net work as a court of the Star Chamber in the Services. A board of inquiry is an essential part of the fighting Services, and therefore I would like to see an extension of this procedure into this field, adapted of course to civilian needs. But the idea of a committee meeting in secrecy and able, if it wishes, to take evidence on oath, being carried out quickly and reporting to the Prime-Minister, is the procedure that appeals to me. On this point I am entirely at one with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson).
In dealing with security, one is going very near to the heart and nerve centre of the whole security system of the country. Therefore, the responsibility in this field, both for what is done and what gets left undone, must remain with the Executive. Of course there ought to be consultation between the two Front Benches. Indeed, the more consultation there is between the two Front Benches the better I am pleased. This is what went wrong with the right hon. Member for Bromley. He had followed the principle of co-operation right up to the Vassall Tribunal. It was only when Vassall came along and said that he was in difficulty, that he broke away from it and it landed us in difficulties that led to conflict with the Press. Therefore, the more wedded the Prime Minister remains to the principle that he laid down this afternoon, of regarding security and, I hope, defence as a whole as something above party, and the quicker we get back to that attitude, the better I shall be pleased.
I hope very much that this story will have had its effect. Some of the things that I talked to Lord Denning about do not appear in the Report, although some are, in a way, in line with what I said. I should like to be reassured—though not to be told in detail—that they were the subjects of inquiry. I do not know whether there is a second report which has been submitted by Lord Denning to the security services. If there is, that is an end of it. If there is not, I should like an assurance, if not publicly, at least privately, that some of the points I put to him and some of the names I mentioned to him have formed the basis of some inquiry. If that is so, I am satisfied; I shall be satisfied to leave things where they are.
I hope very much, however, that hon. Members opposite—the decent ones like the Minister Without Portfolio, who spoke on the day that the Report was published—will acquit right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House of having any other concern than a concern for the public good. That has actuated me from the late days of last December right up to the present time, and I hope that as long as I am in the House it will continue to do so.
This debate takes place in circumstances very different, as far as I personally am concerned, from what I had envisaged up to two months ago, and therefore I hesitated about whether I should weary the House with an intervention or not. I speak now for only two reasons. First, I wished to express publicly what I have, of course, expressed privately, my gratitude to Lord Denning for undertaking the delicate and difficult task which I asked him to perform. I am sure that that is the universal view in the House and in the country, but as I did appoint him I wished publicly to express my gratitude now. Second, I felt that I might be thought lacking in respect for the House, of which I have been proud to be a Member for nearly forty years, if I did not make the effort to be present and to say a few words. I hope that hon. Members will acquit me of any discourtesy if I should find it not possible to attend all the remainder of the debate.
When Mr. Profumo confessed his guilt of misleading his fellow Ministers and his fellow Members, I recognised, of course, the immediate need for an inquiry beyond that which the Lord Chancellor was already undertaking. It was a terrible fault, but a terrible punishment has been exacted, and I wish to say no more about that. As so often happens, the penalty extends to other innocent victims.
The question then arose, what kind of inquiry should it be? On this, Lord Denning himself, I think, makes some very sensible observations. There were only three possibilities at the time. The first was a Select Committee of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to this today, and he compared it with the Public Accounts Committee over which he presided so well for many years. I do not think that it is quite analogous, if only because accounting is less glamorous than accusations against Ministers of lack of integrity or of deceit.
I have in mind two such occasions, and the right hon. Gentleman called attention to one of them. My earliest recollection of being in the House of Commons is of the time when I was in the Gallery as a boy listening to the final debate on the Marconi inquiry. Even then, I realised in some way that it was a shameful scene. No one who has read a recent history of that affair can doubt that the Select Committee did not operate in anything like the mood or with anything like the method indicated by the Leader of the Opposition. It was run as a purely party affair and brought great discredit, I think, upon both parties and upon the House of Commons, and I believe that it was largely because of it that the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, 1921, was passed.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Maurice debate. There was a proposal by the Government of the day that two judges should be asked to inquire into the honour of Ministers. I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that was not a wise suggestion. But in this case there were no such questions as arose at that time. The only Minister concerned had resigned or was in disgrace, and the right hon. Gentleman himself was good enough to say in the debate that neither my integrity nor my fairness was in question—only my prudence. Therefore, I do not think that the arguments against the Committee procedure in the Maurice affair necessarily applied at all to a very different set of circumstances. That was one procedure, and I am bound to say that in this case I do not think that it would have been a satisfactory one.
Another procedure was by tribunal under the Act. I considered this. As the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said—I am sorry to have missed the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech—we had had experience of it in the Vassall case and in the Bank Rate case. I think that we have all felt that this system, partly in camera, though mostly in public, for it may sit in camera only when actually security questions are concerned, is often very unfair to a large number of people. The accounts published in the Press are read day by day, and, by the time the verdict is given it is quite forgotten that many innocent people have been acquitted of all sorts of charges which are made against them but which somehow stick to them, perhaps for all their lives. There is also the difficulty of the tribunal in regard to the Press, evidence on oath and so forth. In this case, there was also the subject of inquiry rather wider than the actual questions arising out of Mr. Profumo's resignation, the wider current rumours which caused so much anxiety to all of us who care for the decencies and integrity of public life. Here, I altogether accept what the hon. Member for Dudley has said about his motive. I am sure we all agree that he was actuated solely from the security point of view.
However, I felt that the inquiry should not be allowed simply to drag along. Therefore, the only procedure which seemed possible was that which I adopted. Lord Denning seemed to me to have, and I think has been proved to have, all the qualities required, a very great pertinacity, great patience and great humanity. If any extra powers were necessary—they did not prove necessary—it was made quite clear that the House would be asked to grant them. Therefore, I think that the choice which I made out of the three courses was the right one for the situation as it then stood.
There have been references today—the hon. Member for Dudley touched on this—to the possibility of a more efficacious general system which would avoid all the difficulties of the three courses which were then open to me. I shall have a word to say about this later.
I come now to the Report. It is partly narrative and partly an expression of Lord Denning's opinions or, one might almost say, judgments. As regards the narrative, the matters within my own knowledge, there is no deviation in the slightest degree—not a detail of a conversation or an hour of the day or night—from the narrative which I gave the House on 17th June. I am not surprised, but I am, at the same time, gratified, for it would have been quite easy, in this very complicated matter which had to be debated at rather short notice, to make an error on some point of detail. In fact, however, I observe that Lord Denning's narrative, so far as my part and the part of Ministers is concerned, is merely a fuller account, with all the evidence before him, of what I told the House. For this, I wish to express my gratitude to the staff who served me with such skill and devotion throughout all the time I was Prime Minister.
As regards the judgments, after listening to his speech, I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would really have been in a position to put down a Motion to agree with the Report. It seemed to me that he made rather more criticisms of it than those which he attributed to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Let us see what Lord Denning found. There was a criticism of the police, a minor criticism, but still a criticism. There was no criticism of the security services, although the fact that certain information was not passed on to me or to my office was, I consider, very unfortunate—a piece of bad luck so far as I was concerned. Lord Normanbrook was completely justified, and all those who know of his long and splendid service to the State will be gratified by that.
The Ministers who questioned Profumo about the terms of his statement did so to make sure that it covered all the rumours about him, and it is clear that the critical paragraphs, to which the right hon. Gentleman quite properly referred, apply not to the drawing up of his statement but to the question of whether we were all naïve or did not ask the right question, but not on the statement, which was simply a matter of putting into the right words what he was to say. It was a question of whether over the weeks which had passed we had, rightly or wrongly, accepted his word. On that, therefore, it sees to me that Lord Denning has reported nothing about which I could possibly find any objection.
I come now to the paragraphs dealing with whether or not we asked the wrong questions. I do not know whether Lord Denning had ever heard of the performance, but when I read the Report it reminded me a little of Albert and the Lion. I believe that when he had read through all the Report, he could not help feeling that it seemed a little too satisfactory, and so he said, "Someone has got to be summonsed", and, rather than follow the magistrate's opinion that no one was really to blame, it was very proper to raise the point of whether the Prime Minister and his colleagues had asked the right questions or had put the matter in the right way.
The truth is that this is a very sad story, because a terrible thing has happened. A Minister has deceived his colleagues both in the Government and in the House of Commons. Of course we were deceived, and I merely ask myself, "What was the right course?".
This is a matter which must be left to the judgment of the House and ultimately to the disagreement of historians if they interest themselves in this affair. It is suggested not merely that we should have asked whether the charge was true, but that we should have asked ourselves whether, in view of the statements circulating among intelligent people, this conduct could have led people reasonably to believe that it was true. That may be the right criticism, although even on the purely legal point I have seen high authorities take a different view. But I certainly do not feel that that is the right relationship between a Prime Minister and a colleague, or, indeed, between an employer and an employee, however humble.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to resignations of Ministers and the changes in Government which take place from time to time. But those do not leave any moral slur on a Minister who is asked to surrender his office or to move to another office. Had I accepted or demanded the resignation of Mr. Profumo in those circumstances, it could only have been taken to mean that I believed him to be guilty and disbelieved his own statements. It was therefore a quite different matter from the instances which the right hon. Gentleman gave which are political events but which leave no moral implication on a Minister.
Of course I was deceived—we were deceived—and that, I admit, is perhaps a serious fault. I was too trustful. I can say only two things in mitigation. First, in quite a long experience, I have often found that a man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man that nobody trusts. Secondly, Mr. Profumo was submitted to two of the most terrific tests which could have been asked of him—first, to bring an action for libel on a statement of his own which amounted to perjury, and, secondly, to make a personal statement in the House. He was ready to accept both of those. I could not believe that anyone would have the folly, apart from the wickedness, of subjecting himself to those two tests. Having said that, I think that this Report has great merit in clearing away a great number of other questions and treating objectively this very sad incident in our public life.
The security question is a very complicated one, as the hon. Member for Dudley has said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—and the Leader of the Opposition seemed generally to agree with his proposal—took up a plan which I had put forward, namely, that instead of an ad hoc tribunal there might be a commission which would have the advantage of being well informed on the security system and all the rules and regulations. It was therefore near to the plan which the hon. Member for Dudley outlined. It would be a standing commission. I think that I suggested that certain Privy Councillors would decide whether a case should go to it or not. The variation now suggested is that the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, should make that decision. It would have the advantages of a permanent body and it would therefore, perhaps, more rapidly accept the facts.
On the question of security generally, there is this strange paradox. The hon. Member for Dudley said, "Suppose something goes wrong". What may go wrong is that espionage is not detected. When it is detected, it means, in a sense, that something has gone right because it means that with all the difficulties—and they are pretty difficult in a free society—the security services have succeeded in detecting something and even in pinning it on a particular man. In societies which do not have the same rules, and in which men can be questioned without being warned or having their legal representatives with them and where there are all kinds of pressures of different degrees, it is much easier to run a security system.
There is, however, this paradox which struck me on all these occasions. From the point of view of the security services, if a spy is detected, it is, in a sense, a success. But it is a great embarrassment to the Government. I remember once saying to one of my friends in these matters, "When a gamekeeper shoots a fox he buries it, but you have to bring the matter out and it becomes a great public scandal". That is one of the difficulties. Therefore, we must not say that, because there is a case, it means necessarily that something has gone wrong. It may mean that, at the end of very careful, tenacious and difficult inquiries, it has been possible to pin something on a particular individual.
Nevertheless, I think that with a standing commission, or court of inquiry, as the hon. Member for Dudley would call it, there might develop a procedure which could rapidly find out whether anything had gone wrong in the sense of neglecting the rules and regulations and the procedures which we have. Unhappily, there are cases which are almost impossible to detect. I refer not to cases in which men have been bought—and they generally show that by their expenditure and by living above their normal way of life—but to the case which is the most difficult of all and which we have not had in this country for 200 or 300 years where a man is, on principle, what we would call a traitor. We have not had that since the wars of religion. This was the extraordinary feature of the Blake case. He was a man who was converted and who in his own heart, I suppose, thought that he was doing right and therefore did not show by the ordinary means by which men can be suspected any sign to lead one to believe that he was acting in this way.
I was glad to hear what the Leader of the Opposition said on the final passage of Lord Denning's Report. I was equally glad to hear what was said by the hon. Member fur Dudley. We all know that from time to time—it is nothing of which this age is particularly guilty; it has been true of all ages—there sweeps over the country or some part of it a strange sense of emotion in which the wildest rumours circulate and obtain, if not credence, at least a good deal of circulation.
I think of Titus Oates and the Gordon riots. I remember in my lifetime Mr. Pemberton Billing, who created a great position and actually got himself elected to Parliament on what was nothing but the circulation of libellous rumours. He attracted at the time a certain emotion and a certain support. All we can now say is that the means of circulation of them are wider, but there is nothing new in this. What is difficult at such a time is for men to keep their heads and try to judge objectively and fairly and not allow themselves to be swayed either from one side or the other from what seems to them the honourable cause. At least, I am very glad, and I think that the House is glad, to feel that this is at an end.
Great as may be the divisions of opinion, perhaps sometimes violent conflicts—and they should be so on high issues and great political questions—this weapon against members of our House, of whatever side, whether in or out of office, is one which should be spurned and which has been, happily—this is the great merit of this form of inquiry—put altogether away.
I will not trespass any further on the House except to repeat what I have said. I welcome the Report. On the single issue as to whether I was imprudent to be deceived, Lord Denning's view may be right, but I still think that mine was the right one. Of course, I was deceived and that must always be for me a great regret, and for the whole House a great sorrow. I think, however, that the Report and the new procedures which we may be able to devise by our common effort and which will follow it will have done good. In that sense, I truly welcome it and I am truly grateful to Lord Denning for having devoted so much patience and so much goodness of his character and heart to a distasteful task which he undertook purely in the public interest.
I should like to express so the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), the pleasure of the House in seeing him back here this afternoon and also our pleasure that after a severe illness he felt capable of a major speech. Speaking for hon. Members on all sides of the House, I am sure that we would have felt indeed sad if this miserable circumstance had forced the right hon. Gentleman to resign about three months ago. It surely is not seemly in public life that a Prime Minister should go out in the circumstances with which we were faced in the last debate. Although we are sorry about the right hon. Gentleman's subsequent illness, we are glad that he has been able to leave office in such a way which does not detract at all from the long service that he has given to this House.
I should like to say this to the former Prime Minister without impertinence. Of course, it is not how we judge things in hindsight. What we all can do and what we can only say we have done is to do the right thing as we see it at the time. If I say anything to the former Prime Minister, it is not to detract from that.
The right hon. Gentleman made play of the Marconi scandal as an example of the Select Committee procedure, but that is not a fair comparison. Recently, I had to do a review of the book, of which the former Prime Minister has spoken, by Frances Donaldson on the Marconi scandal. I read a great deal from the journals of the time in the Library. He was a trifle astray with his history. The only gentleman who got out of the country and disappeared until it was all over was the Liberal Chief Whip of the time, the Master of Elibank.
I did not say that there was shame or discredit on the other figures. I said that I thought the procedure was shameful by which, in the Committee—I have read the book carefully—every division was on a party basis and the whole thing seemed to be run on both sides on the basis of whether they could score off each other and not seeking the truth.
I quite understand the passions at the time. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that as an instrument for dealing with the Marconi scandal, but I remind him—his memory will serve him here—that whenever the House has had to consider something that is already in the maelstrom of controversy, this sort of thing might arise.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, however, to remember other Select Committees which have been more compassionate. I will cite two to the disadvantage of my own side. There was the Select Committee that had to be held on the occasion of the disclosure by the late Lord Dalton when Chancellor of the Exchequer, when most of us thought that he was more the victim than the villain of a shameful confidence trick; or there was the Garry Allighan affair, which went right to the heart of the confidence between members of my party. In the main, those Select Committees were compassionate.
If there is one thing in the present affair on which we should have had a Select Committee, it was the curious procedures of that famous night when we had the five Ministers. There can be no question whatever about that. Having expressed to the former Prime Minister the pleasure which we all share at his presence, I want to devote myself to the Parliamentary procedures or lack of them, the gullibility and the stupidity of the principal characters on that evening. Lord Denning is emphatic on the point. Under the heading "The knowledge of the five Ministers", he states in paragraph 181:
I do not consider it part of my duty to assess the responsibility of Ministers to the House. That is a Parliamentary matter upon which I would not seek to venture.
But we have to seek to venture on it today, and we must be pretty sure that that sort of procedure never takes place again. Everybody here understands that a personal statement is a personal statement. It is something more in the case of a Minister or a Prime Minister, because he comes down to the House and puts his hand on the Box, the symbolism of taking the oath, because in that Box is the oath, the affirmation, the Testament and the Bible. People put their hands on all those things that hon. Members consider holy. To come to the Box and tell a thumping lie is almost a form of blasphemy.
It was not, however a personal statement at all. It was a party stratagem born out of panic. On the previous night, three hon. Friends of mine had indicated that a Minister of the Government had become involved. Was there any consideration to the member of the Government? There was not. I am entitled to call attention to paragraph 180 of the Report, in which Lord Denning compassionately puts in a point in mitigation from Mrs. Profumo, in which she tells how they had gone to bed and they had had sleeping tablets.
This unhappy man was dragged from his bed by the Deputy Chief Whip; he was brought down to the House in a completely scattered frame of mind, there to make a statement. He did not make a statement at all. He had it cooked up for him. I happen to be a person who daily experiences drugs, to get through, and one know that the cycle of sleep is absolutely essential. As a matter of fact, brain washing in Eastern European countries is only done by tablets at night or a jab of deep insulin. A man awakened from sleep after taking sleeping pills, and brought down to the House, would come in a scattered frame of mind. I would like to believe what Mrs. Profumo said, that if this had been a man in possession of all his faculties, with a brain crystal clear, not a man overborne, he might very well then have hesitated.
The former Prime Minister has gone, and I hope I shall not be accused of saying something about him in his absence, but where the Prime Minister failed was in not testing this story out for himself. I really do believe that the Prime Minister, who can give office, who can take office away, has a certain element of responsibility, a job he can delegate to none other. That is deeply felt here. If there is one case I would make against the ex-Prime Minister, it is just on that. There is something rather terrific in having to face a Prime Minister on his own, or in his own room. As a man talks to him there is a wave which passes between him and the Prime Minister, or the Leader of his party, for he is the trustee for the honour of his party; not only trustee for that, but trustee for the honour of British public life.
I really think that Mr. Profumo in the cold light of morning might very well have given a different answer before he took that irrevocable step at the Box. No one here, I hope, now is saying anything about his private life at all, for, my word, if we were to dismiss from public life all those sorts of people who were great sexual athletes in their time we would not put any statues up. No, it is purely the idea of gross deceit we are talking about here now.
A curious thing I find in this sad story is the part of the Attorney-General. I have served notice on him about this. If one reads the Report patiently one finds that not once or twice, or three or four times, but about seven times he had come into contact with this problem before that famous night. At one stage quite early in the proceedings he viewed Mr. Profumo's statement with incredulity. Later on, after he had seen him about three times more, he came to the point when he would not have trusted him but for the fact that Mr. Profumo was prepared to sue on the question of £5,000. But the thing which never occurred to the Attorney-General was that Mr. Profumo was prepared to settle for £500. Let hon. Members read the Report for themselves and of all the various steps which the Attorney-General took and then ask themselves, apart from any of his four colleagues, if he could have been as simple-minded as that. He did not even show the cynicism of a member of a local bench, let alone an Attorney-General. After all, all these five people knew of the presence of the famous letter, and that was probably what Lord Denning had in mind about this in suggesting that there was a degree of simple-mindedness here which one does not expect from Ministers.
I happen to have been wedded to the idea of the Select Committee. Let us assume that a Select Committee had been set up. What would have been the questions the Select Committee would have asked, that Lord Denning did not ask? Remember, Lord Denning is not of the fraternity of this House; he does not understand how it works; he would not have known Members as we know Members here—because, incidentally, one of the best parts of life in this House is the sense of fraternity; and, mercifully, when Members get on their feet to speak it is not so much what they say but what they are by which we react to them. Character plays a part.
Frankly, there is nothing in the Denning Report which I had not been told about last February, and I challenge any hon. Member in any part of the House to say, was there anything new which Denning told us? Apart from the five Ministers in their ivory towers it is, after all said and done, the honour of the former Prime Minister we are talking about.
What happened about that statement? The Minister is sent from the room. A solicitor, assisted by Ministers, produced this piece of jerky prose. Why was the solicitor there at all? I have read the Report why the solicitor was there, but I think it a shocking thing that this House, which is a closed assembly, which pleads it is above the law, which pleads for us that we have privileges, not for ourselves, but for our constituents, should have to have some hired solicitor to advise Members. I could have understood the position if Mr. Profumo had said that there was a fellow Member of the House who was a solicitor who would act for him as a friend. I could have understood this, but the importation of a solicitor to dress up a statement, to cook up a statement, is pretty grim. What happened then, when the statement finally emerged? It was sent to the former Prime Minister, and he altered the drafting in two particulars. I am not going to hold him reprehensible a lot for this sort of thing.
But let us get to the questions which the Select Committee might have asked. First, the Select Committee would have asked whether it was a personal statement. The answer would probably have been, "No, It was not a personal statement. It was a concerted statement. It was a cooked up statement." And the object of that statement was to save the face of the Government in the face of an innuendo.
Then the next question would have been whether Mr. Speaker approved of it. Here I have to be very careful to keep in order, but I do not think that the Select Committee would have approved the statement Mr. Speaker approved, because I hope that never again are we going to be subjected to a statement which so treats something which is inherent in our rights here, the right we have to speak under Privilege. I remember that the late Mr. Gaitskell used to say that Privilege was given to the House, and it is to be used, and we ought not to be reprobated for using it.
My hon. Friend is making a moving reference. I used those words myself here on 21st March, because Mr. Gaitskell had used those words to me. He had said to me that Privilege was given for a specific purpose, and that I would be neglecting my duty if I did not use it.
I thank my hon. Friend very much.
There was one other thing about that statement. I hope that never again will any Member come down to the House to make a personal statement and at the same time use his wealthy position and his known wealth to threaten other Members with litigation outside. A Member goes to that Box and makes a statement and comes clean and says, "This is true". He does not say, "This is true, and you can now use privilege, but outside, as a director of a considerable insurance company, I will use my wealth to break you in the country." That is not the sort of thing that should go into a statement. It was a completely improper statement. Everybody knows it was.
The next question is: Who delivered the statement to Mr. Speaker? I have examined the newspapers carefully, and I am willing to bet—I am open to correction on this—that possibly it was not Mr. Profumo. Was it a personal statement? Is not a personal statement supposed to be delivered by the person concerned? After all, let hon. Members look at the timing. There had been more than two hours of this bad piece of prose. It eventually went to the Prime Minister in the morning. Hon. Members can check no times. The right hon. Gentleman altered it in two particulars. Who took it along to the former Prime Minister?—the Chief Whip. Therefore, was it a personal statement or was it merely a party stratagem moving against time on that Friday morning? These are things about which a Select Committee would, have asked questions. A Select Committee would probably have asked why the statement was passed in that form. One can only assume that there was general hysteria at that time in the morning and that the sands of time were running out.
We should have had to look at, and cross-examine upon—something which Lord Denning could not do—the part played by each of these persons on the famous night. They would not have come out of that very well. There was the Attorney-General who was concerned on that night. There are seven references in the early part of the Report to his incredulousness, to the fact that he did not believe Profumo. Yet, there is the curious way in which he helped in the drafting of the statement.
I suppose it is much the same as in married life. Married life goes on because was believe the best of each other; if we ever believed less than the best, we would not go on. I do not know whether it is quite the same thing in a party sense. But there is something more than the honour of the party at stake on this occasion. Do not let any hon. Member opposite ever believe that whatever electoral consequence this will have for them, it has not done some damage to the image of public life. It has.
Then there would be the question of why the solicitor was present, and presumably the solicitor would have had to be examined. Then there would have been the 64,000 dollar question: why was the Home Secretary not present? His answer probably would have been, "I did not know my responsibilities", if he had answered truthfully on that occasion. Why was he not present? Apparently nobody knew until they read it in the Denning Report that the Home Secretary had the responsibility for security, least of all the Home Secretary himself.
I hope that, for the good name of this House, when we have a personal statement in future it will be beyond peradventure a personal statement and will not be a concerted statement or something which has been inflicted on a half-dazed man in the middle of the night, ruining himself. It might well be, if we could look into the hearts of everybody, that Profumo was as much ruined by the importunities of his friends as he was by any villainies. The fact was that he had to choose the big lie and the small lie and that against the charge of espionage, of which he was not guilty, it seemed quite a small thing. After all, he was on record as saying, "Must I put in anything about Miss Keeler?" He was told "Oh, yes, you must". This was from five men all of whom knew that Profumo had sent Miss Keeler a letter. I might tell hon. Members that this only really broke on the House with the Prime Minister's speech.
It so happens that Lord Denning refers to Select Committees at the beginning, and says:
The appointment of a Select Committee of one or both Houses of Parliament is a very representative body, but it is said to suffer from the drawback (to some eyes) that the
inquisitors are too many and may be influenced in their, often divergent, views by political considerations…
I have looked up all the Select Committees of this century, and I believe that that is not true of any Select Committee with the exception of the Marconi one, which was a very special affair. Of course, there were other detractors. Quotations to this effect have been made by other legal luminaries. Lord Shaw cross has on T.V. derided the Select Committee. What experience has he ever had of a Select Committee? I have looked him up, too. He has never had experience of a Select Committee. As a matter of fact, under the cloak of his legal eminence he is a person who is capable of throwing out general charges without proving them at all.
He may have been our Attorney-General but he has left us now. Spiritually, he is on the other side of the House now. If I wanted to test that I would throw out one proposition which he made which I am sure no hon. Member opposite would accept. Lord Shawcross said once, echoing what the late Clem Davies had said, "Nobody of any national eminence, nobody worthwhile has ever entered the House since 1945."That was the time at which Lord Shawcross entered it.
As some of my colleagues know, I did a bit of research at the time that Lord Shawcross said that, which was in 1958. I found that there had been 335 new Members of Parliament, and all those were not dumb. As I say, Lord Shawcross derided the Select Committee. But what did he know about it? He knew something about the late Lynskey Tribunal, which pushed Mrs. Belcher into hospital and that probably helped to make his reputation. But I do not think that we have necessarily to take his opinion about the procedures of this House.
I can only advise hon. Members to look at all the Select Committees of this century. They are a creditable instrument of Parliament. The great Select Committees have often done valuable jobs for the House, such as entering debtors prisons and going out to Botany Bay in the old days. They have a noble history in inquiring for this House. It is a great mistake to imagine that an inquiry by 15 Members of this House is not in certain circumstances more efficacious than the wisdom of one High Court judge. Do not let hon. Members underrate themselves.
This Report is now all so much water under the bridge. A Prime Minister has gone; we have a new Prime Minister. It would be profitless and do even more harm if we raked it up again. But there is no question in my mind that the five Ministers who that night set about manufacturing this curious statement did an ill turn to this House and to public life generally and did their credit no good at all, because they showed a blazing incompetence.
I wanted to speak about the aspect affecting Parliament and to say, Mr. Speaker, that I hope we shall have a new look at statements which come to you in this form and that what has happened will serve as a warning. Party considerations are very considerable. After all, a party itself is a brotherhood. Unless it is, it is not worth belonging to. I can understand the feelings of hon. Members opposite who wish to protect their party, thinking, as they probably do, of all the people in the country who helped them, just as I like to think about the people who helped me. We have all been lifted on the shoulders of the rank and file in the country. Parliament itself is both a vocation and an avocation. We are about as good as we want to be. That is all we can claim to be. It did not matter that those five persons were five Ministers. They were five Members of Parliament, and they badly let the House down and also Profumo and Mrs. Profumo that night.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has spoken with his usual fire—and with his usual peripateticism because, strolling rapidly down the bench opposite, he succeeded in driving one member of the Liberal Party out of the Chamber altogether and almost kicked another one down the gangway—
True. In that case, it may be that there were other good men here.
I first want to take up one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). Perhaps he might consider that what I cannot help regarding as his feud with Mr. Profumo is now closed. He devoted a good deal of time to driving the nail home, and I really do not think that it need be done any more—
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I never had any feud or hard feeling for Profumo, or he for me, and it is a figment of the imagination to say otherwise. The last time he saw and talked to me, we parted as friends.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has given up his feud, but his speech very much overstressed this one particular and very sad subject which, though, perhaps, the main excuse of the Denning Report is not the most important or main conclusion of it, and we might well pass from that to something else—
I had not the slightest intention of mentioning it, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am one of those animals which, if hit, defends itself and hits back, and if any hon. Member on the other side thinks that he can throw something at me and not get it back, he is quite mistaken.
We can pass from that.
The Denning Report may have great value. I do not feel happy about its origins. I am not happy about the motives of the Opposition parties in pressing, as they did press, for the institution of such a thing, and for pressing, as they did press with their propaganda not only in the House but outside it, in words that would have been better left unsaid. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said that he had never made any imputation on the morals or virtues of Ministers, but I was suddenly reminded of a speech in which he accused the Prime Minister of having debauched the public life of the nation. "Debauch" has only one meaning; it cannot be anything but an imputation on the morals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan).
As for the Liberal Party, I gave the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) notice that I would raise a certain question, but as it has already been mentioned I shall not speak of it again. I think, however, that when what was said proved to be unfounded, as I think that it has been, it should have been at once repudiated. That would have beer far more tactful, and would have left the hon. Member in a far less embarrassing situation than that in which he finds himself at the moment.
his question of immorality was pressed by the Opposition, and pressed steadily. I can quote the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) as saying that:
The whole question of immorality in high places is certainly worrying me.
Does that mean that there is no question of immorality in high places, or that the right hen. Gentleman is imputing immorality—[Interruption.] I will gladly give way if hon. Members seek to intervene in the proper way.
The hon. Gentleman will surely agree that a general statement about being worried about that kind of thing is not in any way a dishonourable statement. It has been made by hon. Members on all sides in this House and, indeed, by many people outside it. I know the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) as being extremely fair-minded in many other debates on other subjects, and I think that he will agree that my hon. and right hon. Friends have all the time deliberately discouraged any suggestion that this topic should become a matter for making party points, but that we have said all the time that we must first clear up the security aspect and then argue on matters of the economy, education, and the rest, that really divide the House.
I will certainly accept from the hon. Gentleman that he has never done any such thing as to try to exploit this subject for party purposes, but he will probably agree on reflection that then are hon. Members on his side of the Chamber who have, and that this very proper reticence has been by no mean; universal—
The hon. Gentleman is making a general charge. Will he give a specific instance where any hon. Member on this side has done as he says? Again, the hon. Gentleman must meet the argument that I put in my speech. If he means what he says, how comes it that not a single word of the memorandum we sent to the Prime Minister leaked out?
I am not prepared to read the whole way through the Denning Report to prove that these things were used and, I think, improperly used in this House but, to take only one instance, I will quote from paragraph 319 of the Denning Report:
Early in June, 1963, a rumour spread through Fleet Street and thence through the House of Commons that a certain Minister was the 'man in the mask.'
I am quite certain that this rumour did not spread on these benches.
Mr. C. Pannell: If the hon. Gentleman reads much earlier in the Report—I think that it is the first reference—he will find that the Attorney-General first heard of it from gossip round the Law Courts, arising from the trial at which Miss Keeler was not present as a witness. It starts far earlier than that, and if the hon. Gentleman does not expect a place like this House to catch up with gossip after a month or two—well!
It is, of course, perfectly true, as Lord Denning says, that all these rumours, or a great many rumours, were circulating in the House of Commons and in Fleet Street, but where is there a word in Lord Denning's Report to say that this was exclusively on the Labour side, or on party lines?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, I am sure, that amongst Members of his own party there were repeated rumours of this kind. It was said in every club in London. It was said on both sides, in the Smoke Room and in the corridors of the House of Commons. It was said in every office in Fleet Street, as we all know. And Lord Denning found that all the rumours were true. What he found, in addition, quite rightly and we all accept it, is that the rumours had been attributed to the wrong persons. But he did not say that the rumours were untrue; on the contrary, he said that they were.
As a matter of fact, he did nothing of the sort. I trust that any other hon. Member who wishes to make a speech while I am in possession of the Floor will try to keep it a little shorter.
Perhaps I can help. If the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) wants to see how Members of Parliament misused their position, he will find on page 54 of the Report a reference to the comments of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in the House of Commons. Lord Denning says that these remarks were of a certain significance. They clearly imputed that Mr. Profumo had been responsible for the disappearance of Christine Keeler. If that is not putting about a lot of nonsense, I should like to know what is.
I thank my hon. Friend for that quotation which I had temporarily forgotten. I am glad that he brought it to the notice of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his defence of his party, said this afternoon that his party had not originated any of the rumours. Nobody ever said that hon. Gentlemen opposite did, but when the right hon. Member for Smethwick says that
the whole question of immorality in high places is certainly worrying me
—and that is the only thing which I have imputed to him—he may not be originating a rumour, but one cannot deny that
he is giving it a nice push on the road, and that it is likely to spread even further if people take note of what he says, as in fact they did.
The main part of the Denning Report deals with the question of security, which is much more important than what I have been talking about hitherto—
—but as the Opposition seemed to concentrate on this facet of the Report, it seemed only right to try to reply to it to a certain extent.
Security is becoming a serious and difficult problem and I am not happy about the suggestion which seems to have been agreed by the leaders of the two main parties that a special commission should be set up to look after it. I say that because this problem of security has gone far wider than it used to be in the old happy days when beautiful spies stole blotting paper from waste paper baskets. The Security Service is very limited in its operation. As Lord Denning said, it has no powers of arrest, no power of search, and it cannot apply for a warrant to do anything. It is therefore inhibited, but, in spite of that, it produces the most remarkable results. In spite of the fact that, unquestionably, some espionage has been successful, and in one case almost disastrous to a large section of our own Intelligence Service, the fact remains that the Security Service, within its limitations, has performed its job pretty well.
During war time we had an unlimited number of willing informers. We were able to conduct very nearly a Police State, and on the whole that in some ways helped the Security Service. It made accepting its reports a great deal more difficult, not the least so because its information was sometimes much too easily come by.
But we cannot go back to that. We cannot go back to having the country flooded with spies and delators and people of that kind, although I regret to say that the record of hon. Gentlemen opposite shows that they would not be too averse to that, if one remembers the cloud of spies strewn over the country trying to hunt down breaches of the food rationing system and other systems. We had something very like a Police State, which I sincerely trust we shall not have again.
But it was still in force in 1950, long after it was necessary.
It is undesirable to return to that system, and I think we have to accept that a much more intense inquiry is necessary into how our counter-espionage is going on. The efforts of foreign services are not now directed solely to the acquisition of military information. We have to face a much more subtle and dangerous system, with which it will be extremely difficult to deal. I am talking about the steady offensive against good standards of life and behaviour inside our country, and about the rotting of the moral fibre of the nation which they are trying to achieve. The Japanese did it in China with drugs, and it is now being done by propaganda.
The Ward case was a symptom of that. I have no doubt that nobody in the Russian espionage service expected Ward to produce useful information. Nor did anybody expect that Miss Keeler would produce any. What they were doing was successfully undermining the moral standards of a large number of people, and a much larger number than one suspects at the moment. The trouble is that these agents have an enormous number of amateur helpers.
That question is not one of anxiety to me. If the hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of listening to what I am saying, instead of bursting in with interruptions, he will realise that I have been talking not about immorality in high places, but about immorality in the nation at large and the effort that is being made to undermine our general standards.
These people have a number of amateur assistants who do not realise that they are taking part in a comfortable and successful plot. We have bishops who testify to the moral good of works of pornography and thus help this campaign. We have a body which
has been described in the following terms:
It is an alliance of Pacifists, of Do-Gooders, of people who passionately believe that the world is flat, of intellectuals suckled on curds and whey, of Seventh Day Adventists, of beatniks and political slickers—the lot
That description of a body of persons was by Mr. Hugh Massingham, a supporter of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The article appeared in the Sunday Telegraph of 8th December, 1963. He was writing of the Labour Party.
We are faced with a magnificent army of natural allies in this dark plot. I do not know how we can compete with it, but I am certain that compete with it we must, because it is much more dangerous than the efforts to gain military information by the old-fashioned method of espionage.
I do not think that spies get any information which is really worth a sausage to the Armed Forces of the country they serve. That information can be gained in other ways which are far more difficult to stop, because they can be operated at long range. I gather that there is to be a careful inquiry into what form of new control we can exercise over hostile espionage, and into what body can be formed to oversee the operation. I am not happy about my right hon. Friend's suggestion. I do not mind a High Court judge in charge of it. I think that a little knowledge of the value of evidence, and the capacity to weigh it, is valuable.
I am not at all happy about having senior retired civil servants or senior retired members of the Services. I have nothing against them except that they know nothing about security. I am not sure that their minds are sufficiently flexible to gain the knowledge as they go along. I do not suggest that the best body would be a Select Committee of this House, although I know that that would receive a good deal of support. I am not at all sure that Members of this House, with certain exceptions, might not be better at acquiring the necessary knowledge as they went along.
I must reiterate that, in my view, this whole sad episode has been exploited for party ends. I regret it; but the thing is now over. It has joined the Bank Rate leakage, the Vassall case, the O.H.M.S. envelopes, and a large number of other hares raised for political purposes. I quite understand why this has to be. A party which is devoid of any political philosophy, save one which it knows to be repugnant to a vast majority of its fellow countrymen, and without a practical capacity to work out an acceptable programme of administration, must do these things—it has no other resources.
It was not my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley who was debauching public life. It was those who were slinging round indiscriminate accusations in the hope that some of them would stick to someone. As we close the debate on the Denning Report, we can feel some pleasure in the realisation that these efforts failed.
I hope not to keep the House long, because I do not want to enter into all the discussions about whether the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Harold Macmillan) was too easily deceived, too gullible in any of these matters. I want to deal in the main, although not exclusively, with the question of what use is the kind of inquiry conducted by Lord Denning. What is it for? What can it establish? What good does it do compared with the harm that it does? I think that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) vitiated his argument by a rather silly partisan approach. He knows, as well as the rest of us, that all the rumours and all the nastiness out of which the appointment of Lord Denning to make the Report arose were widespread. It had no kind of partisan basis. One of the most eloquent denunciations of immorality in high places in connection with this whole series of events came from the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in a well publicised—quite rightly—television interview. He was a member of the Government when he made that speech, as he is a member of the Government now. Does the hon. Member accuse him of having made that speech to help the Labour Party to do the Conservative Government down? It was not only the right hon. Gentleman.
There have been constant references to the debate on the 17th June. I remember the speech made from below the Gangway by a most distinguished
ex-Minister of Defence, the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). If anybody made a partisan attack on the Government arising out of this matter, it was that right hon. Gentleman. We remember the great eloquence with which he wound up, pointing to the right hon. Member for Bromley who was then Prime Minister:
…let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation and pain.
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!"—[Official Report, 17th June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 99.]
I am not arguing for or against his speech. I thought at the time that it was a little severe. It is not a speech that I would like to have heard delivered from my own Front Bench. If anything could be said against it on the ground of partisanship, it was that the right hon. Gentleman was using the occasion of a peat public emergency to vent a spite on the then Prime Minister, or otherwise he may have been genuinely indignant about the Prime Minister's conduct of the whole matter. The hon. Gentleman must not think that we are all so naïve or so foolish as he would like to think us, or that he is himself, or that he can get away with a charge that all this great anxiety which was felt on both sides of the House, which referred to in every newspaper was felt in every bus, and pub in the country, was all the result of some partisan or party spite on the part of my right hon. and hon. Friends. He knows perfectly well that is poppycock, just as much poppycock as the suggestion that any deterioration in moral standards in this country is really part of the Soviet espionage plan. We cannot approach questions in this way, and the hon. Gentleman should have known better than to try.
Great tribute has been paid to the Denning Report. Lord Denning is one of the most distinguished of 20th century judges. But what an impossible task he was set to do. No wonder he did not do it. I get a little irritated at the constant suggestion that Lord Denning's Report has removed for ever all the wild rumours of sensational, dramatic or melodramatic misconduct out of which the inquiry arose. Lord Denning did nothing of the kind. He established the truth of every one of them—the man without a head, the man with the mask—I do not want to go through all the rest of the horrors, but he very honestly and patiently, and no doubt with the appropriate degree of distaste, went through every one of them. He did not say that they had not happened. Do not let us fool ourselves.
What the hon. Gentleman is referring to is the question whether Lord Denning was establishing their existence or not, but the man without a head was known in the law courts of Scotland long before. What he was asked to establish was that the rumours that had been spread had nothing to do with Ministers of the Crown.
I am well aware of that. I cannot concertina all the parts of my speech into one paragraph. What I want to establish, first, is that it is a fond illusion to suppose that Lord Denning's Report established the falsity of the rumours. It did nothing of the kind; it established their accuracy. We do not get rid of a moral stain on society merely by establishing that those who were guilty of it were not Ministers of the Crown. I repeat: do not let us fool ourselves.
It is true that Lord Denning established—and we are all quite ready to accept it—that the attribution of these horrors to Ministers of the Crown was false. But what else could he do? Let us consider the standards of truth that he set himself. We must face the facts in these matters. A little demagogic humbug is not sufficient. I will read the conclusion to which Lord Denning came when he was directing himself to the question of the standard of proof that he would require. I am not complaining that he required a very high standard of proof. Of course that was right; of course he had to require a high standard of proof. But he could not have possibly have set himself a higher standard of proof than he did set himself.
Paragraph 8 says:
Such being the inescapable difficulties inherent ill this form of inquiry, I have come to the conclusion that all I can do is this:
When the facts are clear beyond controversy, I will state them as objectively as I can, irrespective of the consequences to individuals:
and I will draw any inference that is manifest from those facts.
All well and good, when the facts are clear beyond controversy. But if the facts had been clear beyond controversy there would have been no need for Lord Denning's inquiry.
He goes on to say:
But when the facts are in issue,"—
and all the facts were in issue—
I must always remember the cardinal principle of justice—that no man is to be condemned on suspicion. There must be evidence which proves his guilt before he is pronounced to be so, I will therefore take the facts in his favour rather than do an injustice which is without remedy. For from my findings there is no appeal.
let no one imagine that I am complaining of that; this was the right approach.
But now let us consider what he had to say about the scope, methods and powers of his inquiry. In paragraph 7 he says:
At every stage of this inquiry I have been faced with this great anxiety: How far should I go into matters which seem to show that someone or other has been guilty of a criminal offence, or of professional misconduct, or moral turpitude, or even incompetence? My inquiry is not a suitable body to determine guilt or innocence.
If a tribunal is not a suitable body to determine guilt or innocence, and it decides to find guilt or innocence only on the high standard of proof to which I have referred, it is not surprising if everybody is acquitted. Paragraph 7 continues:
I have not the means at my disposal. No witness has given evidence on oath. None has been cross-examined. No charge has been preferred. No opportunity to defend has been open. It poses for me an inescapable dilemma; On the one hand, if I refrain from going into such matters my inquiry will be thwarted. Questions that have been asked in the public interest will not be answered. Suspicions that have already fallen heavily on innocent persons may not be removed. Yet, on the other hand, if I do go into these matters I may well place persons under a cloud when it is undeserved: and I may impute to them offences or misconduct which they have never had the chance to rebut.
So, faced with this dilemma, Lord Denning decides, in paragraph 8, not to convict anybody unless the conviction is fully supported by the evidence—evidence which, in paragraph 7, he avers is not available to him and could never be available to him.
He was dealing with questions of security. Let us suppose that the people alleged to be implicated had not been Ministers of the Crown. Let us suppose that they had been senior civil servants, in a context where the basis of the inquiry was a possible breach of security. Then this high standard of proof is not applied. I want to refer hon. Members to paragraph 295, where Lord Denning poses the very proper question: where is the onus of proof? The paragraph is headed:
Where Lies the Burden of Proof?
He says, in this paragraph:
This raised an important issue: for there was quite a body of opinion to the effect that, where there is a persistent rumour about a Minister which, if believed, would mean that he was a security risk, it must, as a matter of political necessity, be disproved or he must be asked to resign. An analogy was drawn with the Civil Service where a man may be removed from secret duties"—
then follows the quotation—
'because after the fullest investigation, doubts about his reliability remain, even although nothing may have been proved against him on standards which would be accepted in a court of law' ",
that is to say, on the standards which Lord Denning was applying to Ministers of the Crown.
The hon. Member is quite right. Now let me get on with my argument. I am saying that here we have, accepted by Lord Denning, two different standards of proof—two different answers to the question: where does the onus of proof lie? In the case of Ministers he says that there is no onus of proof on them at all; that he does not convict anybody unless the facts are clear beyond controversy, and are supported by incontrovertible, unchallengeable and unchallenged evidence. But if it is a Permanent Under-Secretary instead of the Minister the onus of proof is said to be different. It is said that in these cases the onus of proof lies on the accused person, even though no charge is made, and nothing is made out against him. Even though nothing at all is proved against him. I am saying that one of the standards is right and the other wrong. But what it is impossible to maintain in honour or integrity is that if it is a Minister who is implicated, nothing must be said against him unless it is absolutely proved, whereas if it is one of his office boys, or a senior official, the onus is all the other way. They cannot both be right. I refer to the standard which Lord Denning applied—I do not believe that it is right to condemn a man only when you can make a charge and make it stick.
That is what I am saying, that he could not apply it to the persons of the Inquiry. But why not? However we limit it, we are still left with the two standards. I am saying that in a free society it is impossible to maintain those two standards. We cannot say, as the right hon. Member for Bromley said, that in a free society we cannot do these things. In a free society we must take the risk that something may go wrong rather than sacrifice the principle of freedom on which our democratic society is founded. We cannot say that, unless we are prepared to apply it to Jack as well as to his master—unless we are prepared to apply it to the civil servant as well as to the Minister. We cannot have it both ways. Either we say that this security business is so serious that we have to whittle down our democratic standards of justice, or we have to say, serious or not, we will not whittle them down. But surely we cannot say that we will whittle them down for some and maintain them for others. That cannot be right.
I say no more about that. But I proceed—I do so with some diffidence, but the truth has to be told—to ask how did Lord Denning apply these high standards to other people than Ministers? How, for instance, did he apply them to Stephen Ward? Please do not snigger. Stephen Ward is dead and there is nothing to snigger about. Five or six times in his Report Lord Denning said that Stephen Ward was a man who procured women for his influential friends. That was the charge of which Stephen Ward was acquitted by an Old Bailey jury, and Lord Den- ning knew it. Is this to apply the high standards of justice, not convicting anyone on suspicion, not convicting anyone unless the proof is made out beyond any real controversy? This was the most injudicial thing possible for anyone to say, much less the Master of the Rolls.
He went out of his way in connection with the other charge, the charge of living on immoral earnings, to remind his readers that on this charge Stephen Ward was convicted. How strange it is, then, that he also convicted Ward of the other charge without ever pointing out that on a full trial in an unsympathetic court before an unyielding jury he was acquitted of that charge altogether. I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Rugby with great care and I hope that he is following mine with equal care and equal sympathy—not equal sympathy perhaps, because it is natural that all of us should have more sympathy for Ministers of the Crown than for Bohemians like Stephen Ward. Certainly we have more sympathy, probably because they need it less. But, sympathy or no sympathy, facts are facts. Stephen Ward was in fact acquitted of the charge and it was very wrong of Lord Denning to convict him of it after he was dead and when no one could speak on his behalf or defend him. That is not judicial. It is no use paying compliments to people on the grounds of the supreme judicial honesty and integrity of a report they have made, when one finds that it is not at all like that.
It was said, the hon. Gentleman repeated it, that in some way this man was a security risk; that he was in contact with this, that and the other; that he was doing all kinds of things. What was alleged against him? That at the time of the Cuban crisis he tried to persuade the British Government to mediate. Maybe he should not have done so. But a great many people wanted the British Government to mediate, a great many people in all parties. I am not at all sure whether the Prime Minister himself—then Foreign Secretary—or the right hon. Member for Bromley—then Prime Minister—could lay their hand on their heart and say that they never took any step at any time to endeavour to mediate between the Soviet Union and the United States in an emergency upon which, after all, the fate of the whole world depended.
I can quite understand the other view. I think that there is a great deal to be said for it. I am saying that it is a pretty poor basis on which to charge a man with espionage—that he wanted his country to mediate between two much more powerful countries who were deadlocked in a struggle on which all our lives might depend. It is nonsense, it is over-stating the matter at least, and failing to apply to Ward the standards of truth applied to other people. And why should not one do that, if one is a judge and appointed to conduct an inquiry because one is a judge?
More could be said. I am not going to say it. I promised not to take too long, and it may be that I have taken too long already. I said that the question I wanted to ask was, what good are these inquiries? What do they establish? The answer is that they establish conclusively everything that was known already. They establish nothing else at all. They soothe public fears and public anxieties with a camouflage of moral rectitude based, if it comes to that, on class distinction; on the condemnation of people who cannot defend themselves; on condemnation of people who cannot answer. It really will not do.
I should like, finally, to say a word about Mr. Profumo. I say it because I think that even the hon. Member for Rugby will acquit me of party partisanship in that case. When the Motion was before this House to pass a Vote of Censure I think that I was the only Member to rise in my place and say, "Do not pursue this too far. Leave the man alone, he has paid his penalty". And, as we now know, a great deal more. What had Mr. Profumo done wrong? He had had an association with a girl—a girl who had seen a lot of evil before she ever met Mr, Profumo. It was pointed out to him discreetly by the security services that this was inadvisable, and when he received the warning, that very day he wrote a letter and broke off the association, and by the time the thing all blew up into the tragedy which it became, he had not seen the girl for two years.
For what is he condemned? He is condemned for adding one denial to a series of admissions in a statement made for him in the middle of the night when he was not even in the room. And remember that it was a great convenience to the Government that Mr. Profumo should deny the association because if he admitted it, the Government were in a jam. And so he made this denial. I am not defending it. Of course not. I am not saying even that the penalties were too heavy. But for Heaven's sake let us remember, when we attach the penalties and lay this moral unction to ourselves that we ourselves are innocent and that he alone is guilty, that this may not be true.
I followed with close attention the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), particularly the first part of his speech in which he pointed out something very clearly, as he often does, something which had occurred to me especially in the debate on the Vassall Tribunal—the appalling dilemma which confronts the legal mind when facing these complex problems of security and espionage. The hon. Member pointed out—and none could do it better—the dangers which lie in allowing the legal mind alone to apply itself to these problems. He strengthened an impression which I had gained from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier in the debate that perhaps we shall see a distinct step forward in the proposed security commission, which, headed by a learned judge, will be supported by senior civil servants and senior service officers with a background of security problems. Perhaps this will help to resolve the dilemma in these organisations.
I cannot accept for one moment the opinion of the hon. Member that in this matter, and by implication in others, there is one judicial law for Ministers and another for civil servants who may be placed in these circumstances.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister warned the House in his speech of something of which we should take note—that espionage against this country, the implication being that it was particularly by the Soviet Union, will not decrease with any diminution which we hope for, and of which perhaps we already see the signs, in the cold war. We must watch that very closely.
I will confine my remarks particularly to this security aspect and to certain rather technical considerations which bother me and which primarily were the cause of my finding myself in a position in the June debate in which I could not support the Government. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) coined a phrase which I rather liked when he said that in our dealings with this important and complex subject we were nonchalant amateurs opposing the ruthless efficiency of our opponents. This is a point which to my mind has been singularly lacking in the attitude of right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House in the debate. I should like to try to avoid scoring party points, of which there are plenty to be scored on both sides, and to confine myself to the supreme issue, as I see it, of national security and of the failures which I believe have occurred in safeguarding that security: and what we can do about it in the future.
There is a particular phrase in the Denning Report to which I should like to draw attention. There are several mentions of "unprecedented situations" occurring in this case. Of course they were unprecedented to the learned judge. It is an unprecedented situation when Vassall finds himself in a bedroom in Moscow being photographed in a compromising position. We are dealing with a series of unprecedented situations, and unless we realise this and take ourselves a little outside the atmosphere of the House of Commons we shall not come up against the realities of the matter with which we are dealing.
May I turn to a separate aspect of the Denning Report which still worries me and on which I have not had an answer which satisfies me? At several points there is reference to lack of co-operation between various Departments of State, primarily the security services, the police, the Home Office and the Prime Minister's office. There is no mention anywhere of co-operation, or lack of it, between the Departments concerned with security and the major Department of State which deals with our foreign affairs. Although I am sorry that there is no representative of the Foreign Secretary on the Front Bench, I hope that this point will be dealt with in the reply to the debate.
In reading the circumstances as outlined in the Denning Report, and speaking as a former British naval attaché in Moscow, I wonder how it came about that Captain Ivanov spent nearly three years in this country and was known for a great part of that time to be a Soviet intelligence agent. I wonder whether the gallant captain would have been entirely safe in a small boat on the Sepentine? Was he a sailer? What naval experience had he? We have heard nothing about that. We have heard that he behaved oddly—and that is the lowest possible adjective to apply to his conduct as set out in the Denning Report. He was an assistant naval attaché in I his country for nearly three years, holding the post by diplomatic appointment. The Foreign Office knew that he was an agent. They were warned at half-time, as it were, in June, 1962. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of that time specifically warned my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) that he should have nothing to do with this man.
I want to ask two questions to which I hope I shall get a satisfactory reply. The first arises from the fact that where there is a departure from diplomatic usage it is customary for the Foreign Secretary of the day to send for the ambassador concerned and to point out to him, mildly or otherwise as the case may be, that the conduct of one of his subordinates in the mission is deserving of attention. I understand that this was not done at any time during the three years of employment of Captain Ivanov. The matter was not mentioned to the Soviet ambassador at any time. I should like to know, firstly, whether the Foreign Office simply disregarded these warnings.
Did the Foreign Office not observe how this assistant naval attaché was behaving in this non-naval fashion and why, if so, were no representations made? I shudder to think what would have happened to me in those days in Moscow had I attempted one-tenth of the activities outside my naval attaché's duties as were perpetrated by Ivanov. Secondly, it seems clear from Lord Denning's Report that shortly after or, perhaps, contiguous in time with Ivanov's arrival as assistant naval attaché in this country it was known that he was a Soviet intelligence agent.
Observing the experience in these matters, sad experience recorded in this House in several debates in the years I have been here, does it not seem elementary prudence in such cases to exercise another perquisite of the diplomatic establishment; to declare an individual attaché persona non grata? If it was known, as we see from the Report that it was, that this man was engaged in espionage under a cloak of diplomatic immunity, why was this piece of international machinery not put into motion?
I have inquired about the cases there have been in the past, perhaps since the war, affecting representatives of other countries—the Socialist countries of Eastern Europe, as they are often described—to see how many of them have been declared persona non grata and why. The information has not been available, and I retain my doubts on this matter in general while that situation remains.
As I have said, my remarks have been concerned with the security aspect alone. I appreciate what was said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, which showed how this legal dilemma confronts those responsible for our national security. I accept Lord Denning's Report. I am sure that it will do a great deal towards opening people's eyes to the possibilities inherent in the present situation. While I wholly support Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley in his moving remarks earlier on the events of that fateful night, I retain the doubts which I expressed in the debate in June, when I found myself unable to support the Government. I hope and trust that the measures which have been outlined by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will lead to real—and, if I may say so, rather belated—results in combating this continuing peril to our national security.
I have given notice to the Attorney-General that I shall be referring to him. The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) probably speaks with more knowledge on the question of security than any other hon. Member. Certainly we always listen to him with the greatest attention. I hope that he will forgive me if I refer to other matters in the Denning Report with which I am more familiar.
I join with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in deploring the manner in which, time and again, the judiciary has been involved by this Government in their scrapes. We have had one inquiry after another. We have had Lord Devlin, Lord Parker, Lord Radcliffe and Lord Denning—each involving essentially political questions and in each the reputation of a judge was invoked to protect the Government. That is an utterly wrong principle, and the worst of these examples seems to be the present one, because I do not see what authority there was for this kind of inquiry.
As I understand it, Lord Denning is a judge who is paid by the taxpayer for judging. By what authority is he taken from his job in what I should have thought was public time and made to do something which, on any definition, has nothing whatever to do with judging? Of course it is not money that one is complaining about. One is complaining about the attitude of this Government that judges are their servants, available to them to be taken at any time and to be given any chore that is convenient to the Government. This is utterly wrong and should come to an end.
I find the terms of this inquiry quite wrong. I must refer to some words of Lord Denning, from paragraph 5 of his Report, which have already been quoted. He stated:
I have had to be detective, inquisitor, advocate and judge, and it has been difficult to combine them.
In my submission, it is impossible to combine them. It is of the very essence of every civilised judicial system that those functions should be separate and not combined. While I have great respect for Lord Denning personally, I deeply deplore that, as a judge, he should have allowed himself ever to be put in that position. Of course, having got in that position I sympathise with him. I will
not quote it because it has already been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but he put himself in a position in which he found justice and fair play on the one hand in conflict with objectivity on the other and, having to make a choice, I think that he rightly chose fair play. He was put in a position in which, on his own statement, he had to prefer improbable innocence to probable guilt. I think that, having got himself there, he was right in the choice he made, but I find his final sentence in paragraph 339 odd in the circumstances:
My findings will, I trust, be accepted by them as a full and sufficient vindication of their good names.
Having described the position he was in and that he was not in a position to find innocence, I find that an odd remark. I, too, hope that these rumours will end, but to say that they have been ended by this Report is optimistic.
Having said that on the general principle on reports and inquiries of this sort, I turn to the case of the five Ministers. What I am concerned with is what they knew when they concocted—or when one of them, the Attorney-General did, because he was the man who drafted it—this statement. I accept immediately that they did not know and that they honestly believed that Mr. Profumo had not committed adultery. I equally agree with Lord Denning, although I would not quite put it as he does, that this was largely irrelevant. What we require of our Ministers is discretion, not continence. We have had several Prime Ministers in this century who have committed adultery, and they have not been the least of our Prime Ministers. We have had a number of Ministers who have committed adultery, certainly not only Mr. Profumo. Adultery had never been, or at least has not been for many years, a disqualification for high office. I think that the last time it was suggested was during Lord Goddard's, then Mr. Rayner Goddard, solitary appearance in the political field when he appeared as a purity candidate in 1922. A Mr. Davidson who had held junior office or had been a Government Whip had been divorced and Mr. Goddard fought him at the next election as a purity candidate. The purity candidate received a very small vote indeed, and that, I think, was the last occasion on which it was suggested that adultery was a disqualification.
Mr. Profumo's public offence was indiscretion. It was behaving in a manner unbecoming to the holder of a great office, picking up this sort of girl, writing to her indiscreet and saleable letters, taking her for car rides, and going into a flat where one met the sort of company one met at Ward's flat, and being in that flat alone with her when people came into it. This was conduct inconsistent with the dignity of a great office. This and not adultery was Mr. Profumo's public offence.
I am interested in what the Ministers knew. We have heard that it was the Attorney-General who drafted this statement. Mr. Profumo was not there. He had been dragged dopey out of bed and had stayed in another room. His only intervention, was to ask, "Do I really have to say that I was friendly with her?". To this he received the rather surprising answer, "Of course you do. That letter is floating about."
This statement was then corrected by the Prime Minister. All that Mr. Profumo had to do with it was to read it, and this, I submit, is the first deception with which we have to deal here. This House offers special privileges to those who wish to make a personal explanation. Their statement is heard without comment, without interruption and without question. Here, under the guise of a personal statement, a Government declaration drafted by the Law Officers and revised by the Prime Minister was produced. In my submission, that was a deception of the highest order and a misuse of our procedure.
I should like to look at what was in that statement, which is published on page 61 of the Denning Report. I will read the words which seem to me to be the important ones. They are:
I last saw Miss Keeler in December, 1961, and I have not seen her since. I have no idea where she is now…My wife and I first met Miss Keeler at a house party in July, 1961, at Cliveden. Among a number of people there was Dr. Stephen Ward, whom we already knew slightly, and a Mr. Ivanov, who was an attaché at the Russian Embassy, The only other occasion that my wife or I met Mr. Ivanov was for a moment at the official reception…at the Soviet Embassy…My wife and I had a standing invitation to visit Dr. Ward. Between July and December, 1961, I met Miss Keeler on about half
a dozen occasions at Dr. Ward's flat, when I called to see him and his friends. Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety whatsover in my acquaintance with Miss Keeler."
I suggest that that statement meant and was intended to mean, "These rumours are a complete mare's nest. There is nothing in them at all." Miss Keeler was an acquaintance of the Profumos, an acquaintance whom they had met in respectable circumstances both at Cliveden and in the fiat of a doctor, and that is all there was to it.
This certainly was the sense in which I understood it, and I may say that I was delighted because, if I may quote and adopt the words used by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), Mr. Profumo was and is a friend of mine. On that occasion I remember sending him a letter to say how delighted I was that he was so completely in the clear.
Having had that impression, just what did the Attorney-General know? He is approached on 28th January by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). It is one of the curiosities of this case how confident the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet was that his rather surprising behaviour would be all right by the Law Officers. At any rate, he had the information from that point.
The information which the Attorney-General had was that Mr. Profumo had gone to Ward's flat on several occasions, on none of which he was accompanied by his wife, and had twice been there alone with Keeler when other people arrived; that Ward kept highly disreputable company and that his flat was not at all the sort of place where somebody would bring his wife, and that he was a security risk with Russian contacts—all this was known to the Attorney-General—and that Keeler had written an article in which she alleged that Profumo was her lover and that she had demanded £5,000 for the suppression of that article. But the Attorney-General had been consulted on that matter and had advised referring it to the Director of Public Prosecutions. These were the facts known to the Attorney-General, and I should like to know how much of those facts were known to the other Ministers. I certainly do not believe that anything like the whole of those facts were known to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) wishes to challenge me on that. It may well be true that in July I did not know all the facts that he has read out, because, as the Denning Report makes clear, there was no detailed investigation on that evening. We were accepting the fact and the investigations made by the Chief Whip and the Law Officers. In fairness, because I would not wish any distinction to be drawn between me and the Attorney-General, I should add that everything that I have heard since reinforces me in the belief that the two key questions that we did know were that Mr. Profumo was prepared to take action against anybody, even a colleague in the Government, and he was prepared and anxious to make a statement at the Dispatch Box.
I accept that the right hon. Gentleman did not know these facts—I am sure he did not—and I also accept his gallantry in seeking to stand by his right hon. Friend. But I still do not believe that if he had known these facts that statement would have been made.
Let us look at this statement again and see how it is worded. There is, on the one hand, the picture as it was known—blackmail prosecutions being threatened, a series of gross indiscretions and on the other, the kind of suggestion of the respectability of the whole thing. It is the skill of juxtaposition—
My wife and I had a standing invitation to visit Dr. Ward".
Of course, it does not say "My wife accepted the invitation."
I met Miss Keeler…at Dr. Ward's flat.
It does not actually say "My wife was there", but the whole point of bringing Mrs. Profumo into this all the time is to suggest that she was there. On the facts as they were known, this statement was designed to deceive the House, and it was drafted for that purpose by the Attorney-General.
I would only say that this is not the only time the Attorney-General has adopted this system—I say this particularly because the Prime Minister said to us that these things must be dealt with on a basis of trust—of drafting a statement which will convey one thing to hearers but which contains a latent ambiguity which can be relied upon afterwards.
The other case was the case of Enahoro. The House will remember that on that occasion Enahoro expressed great anxiety as to whether, if he were returned, he would be allowed the counsel of his choice. That anxiety was shared by the courts. It was shared because Awolowo had not been allowed the counsel of his choice, as he was entitled to under the constitution of Nigeria. A declaration and an undertaking were given to the courts, necessarily vague and necessarily unenforceable—one was dealing with a sovereign Government—whose purpose seemed clear, to put at rest Enahoro's anxiety as to whether he would have the counsel of his choice. On 11th March the Home Secretary was told that unless, at any rate, he changed his mind, Enahoro would rot have the counsel of his choice because the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) and Mr. Gratiaen were not going to be admitted. This the House knows. What the House does not know is that that affidavit in which the Home Secretary said he had made inquiries in Nigeria and received a satisfactory assurance was settled by the Attorney-General with full knowledge of the facts.
When we first heard of that affidavit I think few of us—certainly not myself—could bring ourselves to believe that the Attorney-General knew that these two counsel were to be excluded. Eventually I got the admission in correspondence. Later on we had the admission that, this alarming news having been received from Nigeria, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was summoned back from his holiday and came back from his holiday especially to settle this affidavit and did settle it. As to what that affidavit said, I will read it because it is so precisely the same method that was adopted here.
This is the affidavit:
First, the Applicant had submitted that there were serious grounds for apprehension that if he was tried he would not be allowed Counsel of his choice An undertaking had been given to this Honourable Court on behalf of the Nigerian Government in this connection, but questions had been asked in the Appeal
Committee of the House of Lords about the form and effect of this undertaking. I considered that in the interests of the Applicant it was crucial that I should be left in no uncertainly about this. After an approach to the Nigerian Government through the British High Commissioner in Lagos I received on the 11th March an assurance of a satisfactory character from the Prime Minister of Nigeria.
What does that mean? The applicant had expressed anxiety as to whether he would be allowed the counsel of his choice. The courts had expressed anxiety. The Home Secretary had acted in the interests of the applicant. Does it not follow that the assurance which he had received was an assurance satisfactory to the applicant? "Not at all", says the Attorney-General; "I did not mean that. What I meant was that the assurance was satisfactory to the Home Secretary, and, since it was satisfactory to the Home Secretary that Chief Enahoro should not have the counsel of his choice, the affidavit was true".
To be fair to the Attorney-General, let us have it in his own words in the answers which he gave to a fellow Bencher who put questions to him. This matter having been analysed, these are the questions which were put and the answers which the Attorney-General gave:
(Q) Will you accept that this is a view the court might well have taken of it; Here you had the words that the applicant was apprehensive that he would not get the counsel of his choice. The Home Secretary, acting in the interests of the applicant, made certain inquiries, and he then says that the effect of those inquiries was of a satisfactory character. I suggest to you that that must mean of a character satisfactory to the applicant; that is what it must imply to anybody reading that affadavit? (A) I am bound to say that it never occurred to me till now. The undertaking and what its meaning was had been left in a state of uncertainty, and it was because of that that I did not think it would be right to imply something quite different.
(Q) Are we to take it from you that you are asking us to accept that it had never occurred to you that a court reading this affadavit would think that 'the assurance of a satisfactory character' meant an assurance satisfactory to the applicant? (A) No. it is not; it never occurred to me.
(Q) It never occurred to you? (A) No, certainly not…
A little later,
(Q) Do you agree that if this paragraph had ended by saying, 'I have received an assurance which indicates to me that the applicant cannot have the counsel of his choice', there is no knowing what the Divisional Court would have done? (A) I do not agree, be-
cause the Divisional Court had never said that he was to have the counsel of his choice, The whole of this case is based on the misapprehension that at some stage somebody had said that Chief Enahoro should have the counsel of his choice; but I took the view that nobody got anywhere near it. They had taken a very limited undertaking indeed, and this is all they thought was necessary to return him for trial in Nigeria".
It is very odd that the Attorney-General should have had no idea that anyone thought that he would have the counsel of his choice, particularly when the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself had told the House about it. This was on 21st March this year:
A point was raised about whether it is a good or a bad thing that the Chief should be represented by a British Q.C. at his trial. The only interest of Her Majesty's Government in that was not in securing that a British Q.C. should represent him, but that they should be assured that he should have the counsel of his choice from all those qualified to appear. It was thought necessary to secure that to see that he would have the counsel of his choice. Her Majesty's Government had no interest at all in seeing whether he had a Nigerian or a British Q.C. It is entirely a matter for him to choose by whom he prefers to be represented."—[Official Report, 21st March, 1963; Vol. 674, c. 678.]
Therefore, what happened here was that the explanation or interpretation of that affidavit settled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman which was accepted as his escape by the Benchers of the Inn was precisely opposite to the interpertation which he himself had put upon it in the House.
I am proposing to place my complaint to the benchers, together with the Attorney-General's evidence in reply—that is, all the evidence available to the benchers—in the Library, where it will be available for Members to read and adjudge for themselves. I propose to do that for two reasons. The first is that, if the Prime Minister believes that there has got to be trust, this House and its Members should know the kind of conduct which this Government finds acceptable in its Attorney-General. Secondly, it is important that both this House and the public should know the kind of conduct which is apparently acceptable to the benchers of the Inner Temple from the leader of the Bar.
The method of procedure about complaints of professional misconduct is, first, the reference to a joint committee of benchers and of the Bar Council, which is a judicial committee. It considered the matter and found a prima facie case. The matter is then referred to the benchers of the Inn, and the tribunal then consists of any benchers who choose to turn up. Thirty-two turned up on this occasion. There is no age limit for benchers. There is no limit for High Court judges either, but, none the less, at a certain point they may realise that for reasons such as deafness and the other deteriorations of age they can no longer properly hear cases. But that does not prevent them from remaining as benchers or from appearing on occasions such as this. It is precisely these old retired gentlemen who have nothing else to do who turn up in the largest number.
I do not know how hon. Members would fancy having to address a complicated argument to a hostile House in which the floor belonged to the interrupter and not to the speaker and in which a high percentage of deafness prevailed so that a question was repeated over and over again by old gentlemen who had not heard the answer in the first place and in which there was some difficulty in memory also, because one old gentleman asked the same question, I think, six times, having forgotten both the question and the answer. In the circumstances, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheatham (Mr. H. Lever) did most gallantly.
Secondly, this procedure also tends against impartiality because naturally—and this is human nature, the pleasantest side of human nature-people whose inclination is to vindicate a friend, a colleague, a fellow Bencher, are more inclined to attend than those who feel that they may have to condemn. All I can say is that, as far as I was concerned, I was very clear that the Attorney-General had a majority in the first hour, although node fence had emerged then, even if it ever did.
I am not usually somebody who comes out of a conflict yelling, "We wuz robbed". Nor do I usually feel that President Nkrumah sets a very good example for unsuccessful prosecutors. But, none the less, on this occasion, and since the whole of the evidence available to the benchers will be available to Members of this House, I must express the personal opinion that the acquittal of the Attorney-General was so patent a miscarriage of justice as to raise the question whether the somewhat anachronistic methods of the Benchers of the Inner Temple should be permitted to continue.
I propose not to discuss the question of a proper type of appeal for the benchers of the Inner Temple, but to revert to the subject which we have under discussion. There has been some abortive discussion today about the measure of party advantage which has been sought in this unfortunate matter of the Profumo case.
Those who pronounce upon this matter cannot do so unless they are put in the position, as I have been, of having foreknowledge in the Profumo case, as I had in the case of John Belcher. Of those two cases, my foreknowledge of John Belcher gave me more anxiety. If one is a member of the Opposition, one feels a special sense of responsibility and one feels even more the damage that this sort of conduct does to the standing of the House as a whole. I should not like to make any point that the Opposition, by and large, sought to make any particular party capital out of this issue.
In saying a word or two about the Denning Report, I should like to reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I think that the Report was a little harsh on Stephen Ward. I met him only twice and I did not form a favourable opinion of him, but I think that the Report is a little hard on that man. As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, it is not entirely consistent with that somewhat questionable verdict at the Old Bailey.
Secondly, I hope that the cases in which, apparently false testimony was given against Stephen Ward will not be dropped because the man has ceased to live. T notice that in the case of Miss Barrett, no action has so far been taken. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will see that action is taken if the facts before the police justify it.
I should like to pass to one or two general observations about this issue. T cannot share the apparent unconcern of some hon. Members about the relative unimportance of the moral issues with which we are involved. I am, per- haps, old-fashioned enough to believe that moral issues are of importance. I am, perhaps, old-fashioned enough to believe that the conduct of a Minister should be at least as good as the average conduct of members of our society. I am not so foolish as to imagine that Members of Parliament or Ministers can be, or are, plaster saints, but I am prepared to stand by the view that Ministers should set themselves a high standard of conduct and that if they have tendencies in one direction or another which may be unconventional, it is their duty during the time that they are Ministers of the Crown to suppress those tendencies.
Ministers have an obligation not only to this House, but to the party and to the country, to act in a manner which is, perhaps, different from the way they would act if they were not Ministers of the Crown. This is a position which imposes upon men a certain amount of restraint and a high trust, and the House and the country have a right to believe that men and women will act accordingly.
I do not want to suggest that we can take the view that Ministers of the Crown can lead entirely blameless lives, but I am satisfied that it would be quite damaging to the whole concept of Parliamentary Government if it were lightly held that because 40 years ago we had a Prime Minister who behaved in a rather bad way, or that in the last 10 years somebody else did something else, this can be looked upon with unconcern. Today Ministers of the Crown are subject to much more intense public scrutiny than at any other time in our history, and it is fitting in the general interests of this House and of the democratic form of government that they should behave in a manner which upholds the institution.
Having said that, let me turn for a moment to suggestions which have been made about the inadequacy of the Denning method of reporting. Of course it is inadequate if one is trying to deal with rumour with its thousands of slimy tentacles. Quite obviously, one cannot get a report which is satisfactory over such a wide and seamy range. Clearly it is not possible, but I suggest to hon. Gentlemen who criticise the method chosen by my right hon. Friend that a committee of inquiry would have been very much less effective. On the whole I do not think that a Committee of this House consisting of 15 Members would have been as penetrating or unreserved as was Lord Denning in his attempt to find the truth of these various allegations. I say that as one who has had a little to do with talking to Lord Denning.
I hope that the House will permit me to say just one or two words about the dangers which face us from the security point of view, and in support of the suggestion made by the Prime Minister of a Standing Commission. I believe that a Standing Commission is valuable from a point of view different from that expressed by hon. Members so far. I believe it to be valuable as a buttress for the Security Service itself.
I wonder how many people realise how much out on a limb the Director-General of the Security Service must feel. He has no one, really to whom he can turn. It is true that he is for administrative purposes, rations and pay, under the Home Office; it is true that in an extremity he can turn to the Prime Minister for a certain amount of guidance; but neither of these arrangements gives him the sort of support which many other people have in their jobs—for instance, the Secretary of State for War in his. The isolation is pretty complete. I think, therefore, that if we could have a Standing Commission on Security, an advisory committee, to which the Director-General could turn it would be extremely valuable in giving moral support, and probably practical advice, to a man who is isolated in his job perhaps more than any other single member of the community—even more isolated than a chief constable, and that is saying something. So I think this is a good idea and that we should support what the Prime Minister has proposed in the way of a permanent commission which would advise the Director-General when required.
The last point I want to make is a somewhat difficult one but I feel compelled to make it and it is this—that I still believe, despite the Profumo case, that the greatest single danger which we face from the point of view of security, the greatest weakness, is the danger from homosexual conduct. In the Radcliffe Report this was played down. Lord Radcliffe equated the danger from homosexual conduct with that of drunkenness or running after women. I do not believe for one single moment that there is this equation, and I am very glad indeed that the Denning Report has made it quite clear that he, Lord Denning, believes that homosexual conduct is a serious source of security weakness, and I hope that those who have responsibility will take due note of that.
I understand that there is a statement to be made. I should have liked to have said a little more on this subject, but I feel that if I go on I shall deny other hon. Members an opportunity.
I intervene very briefly in the debate because I feel that the House is entitled to ask what my personal position is in the light of the publication of the Denning Report. I welcome this opportunity to make my position clear.
I should like first to thank the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) for his great courtesy in having curbed the length of his remarks. I am sure that the House would have liked to listen to them at greater length. Also, the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has very kindly said that I may overrun a minute or so of his time. However, I hope that I shall not have to trespass on his kindness or the time of the House.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) asked me, very properly, why it was that I had waited until this debate before making any reference to the particular matters with which I have been connected. I hope that by the end of my very few remarks I shall be able to indicate why that is so.
I hope the House will allow me to make what is in the nature of a personal statement, a genuinely personal statement, but obviously one for which I ask for no privilege or protection of any sort.
The House may recollect that last July I made certain suggestions in my constituency which were based on information which had come to my knowledge and which, incidentally, received wider publicity than was ever anticipated at the time. Today I do not wish to publicise either the nature of the information or the conclusions to which I was led. Suffice it to say that the House will remember that I gave public expression to views which were then widely held in private. I gave the fullest evidence to Lord Denning, and were he today opening his investigations, I should still feel it my duty to place the same information before him.
However, what is important is that, having evaluated all of the evidence before him. Lord Denning refuted any suggestion that there were grounds on which further Ministerial resignations might be expected. I want to say quite clearly that I accept Lord Denning's findings without any qualification whatsoever, and I would further wish to apologise for any pain that this publicity may well have caused.
In accepting the Report, I take pleasure from the fact that this in itself indicates that the standards of our public life stand higher than many at one time thought possible.
I have deliberately refrained from alluding to this particular matter until this debate, because I felt that this House was the most appropriate forum in which to do so, and that, further, it would, on the one hand, provide an occasion when the Press would be less likely to accord it a disproportionate degree of attention, and, whilst on the other hand, guaranteeing that an accurate account, a permanent account, should remain on the record.
We have just listened with respect to the statement made by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe).
We have had a very good and very valuable debate, and it will close an affair, an ugly affair, of which we shall be glad to see the end. All the speeches save one—I have heard nearly all of them—have been of a very high standard in my judgment, and matters which are of concern to Parliament and to public life have been raised in a way which cuts across party lines and differences.
The speech that seemed to me to be below this high standard was that of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour). He said, and it was repeated by his hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise), that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had said in Canada, when he was told about Mr. Profumo's confession, that he was not making any comment in glorious Technicolor. This is the charge which was made. This appeared only in the Daily Express, of course. It was only in the Daily Express, I think.
He quoted—I beg the hon. Member's pardon—from the Daily Express. The origin of the story rests only on the Daily Express. A leading Canadian statesman, a former Premier of a Province, was with my right hon. Friend the whole of the time when this man from the Daily Express was pestering my right hon. Friend. He heard everything that passed, and he says that what appeared in the Daily Express, and then in this book, was a complete perversion of what my right hon. Friend had said.
I am very glad, in the light of this speech, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), whose speech we heard with great sympathy and with great understanding, agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)when he claimed, and proved, that the Labour Party had throughout been actuated only by interests of security.
I shall now try to draw together the main themes of the debate, and put a number of points and questions to the Home Secretary, who is to wind up. One point of importance was the Prime Minister's attempt, if I may so describe it, to accept the Report without actually doing so. He rose on a number of occasions during my right hon. Friend's speech and, towards the end, I thought that he got very near to saying that he did accept the Report. But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman is not the House of Commons. It is very important that he should say that, but the really necessary thing is that the House should accept the Report. If the right hon.
Gentleman is now ready to say that in his view we should accept the Report—we do not like all of it, any more than he does—we would be prepared just to accept it. If a Motion were put down between now and the Christmas Adjournment to accept the Report we, for our part, would see that it was carried formally and without debate, so that it was on record. I put that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman.
A theme that has, of course, dominated a large part of the debate has been the conduct and responsibility of Ministers as disclosed in the Denning Report. I say at once that I am very glad indeed that the rumours dealt with in Part IV of the Report were settled, and are closed. I am sure that they have been forgotten, and I think that people generally are a little ashamed of that orgy of scandal mongering.
There does remain, however, the question of the incompetence and gullibility of Ministers. That is of real importance because, through their gullibility and their incompetence, time and scope were given for the spreading of these rumours. Had Ministers been more competent, more efficient, the rumours would not have had so long a time to run and gather and pullulate. The meeting of the five Ministers after midnight on 21st March was not the beginning and end of this incompetence and gullibility—it was the culmination of that gullibility. I am very sorry that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) decided not to speak. He is the one Member of the five who is now on the back benches and who could have given us his account of what happened. I am glad that he intervened to tell it very briefly, but I am sorry that, in the end, he decided not to make a speech.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said, it was the five Ministers and not Mr. Profumo who were directly responsible for this personal statement of 21st March. They proposed it, they drafted it, and they insisted upon insertions in it that Mr. Profumo himself did not really want to see. I think that the five Ministers made a—
I am trying to get it clear for the record. From paragraph 177 it will be seen that the drafting
…was done by the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and Mr. Profumo's solicitor in consultation in one room.
That is the normal practice when one is drafting a document that may result in legal action—the solicitor of the right hon. Gentleman who was under examination should take part in drafting the document.
A personal statement cannot lead to legal action. I repeat everything I said. This was proposed by five Ministers. They sent for Mr. Profumo. They brought him from a deep sleep in bed. They proposed the statement. They drafted it. Mr. Profumo was not even in the room, and they inserted in it a sentence to which Mr. Profumo objected and asked, "Do I really have to say that? Do you insist on putting those words into my mouth?" That is clear from the Denning Report.
I have read it. In fact, I have read the Report three times from cover to cover. Incidentally, the Prime Minister, according to the Report, amended a couple of points.
The other major error of judgment on the part of the five Ministers is that they never asked or tried to see the famous "Darling" letter. The Attorney-General and the Chief Whip had been told about this by Mr. Profumo seven or eight weeks before the critical night, and on that night everybody knew that this letter was in the possession of the Daily Mirror. The five Ministers had the letter in mind because they used and quoted this letter to persuade Mr. Profumo that he ought to accept the sentence which he did not want to accept about his friendship with Christine Keeler. It is inexplicable that these five Ministers did not try to get a sight of this letter.
These were not innocent, insignificant men. There was the Leader of the House, who was in close touch with opinion in the House, and we all knew about this at the time. There was the Minister without Portfolio. He is a leading journalist who knows about Fleet Street, and is trained to look behind the truth of stories. There were the Law Officers whose business it is to know about testing evidence and all the rest of it.
The Prime Minister said this afternoon that the sole concern of the five Ministers was to help Mr. Profumo to clear himself. This does not seem to be a defence of what they did, but an accusation. They should not have had that sole concern in their minds. Having read the report three times, I find it incredible that these five right hon. Gentlemen swallowed Mr. Profumo's story. I have the feeling that they appeared much too much, and acted much too much, as lawyers in relation to a client. That is why they sent for the solicitor and all the rest of it. They did not act as men of the world; as men with a due and proper sense of Ministerial behaviour. Had they been wiser there would not have been a personal statement and all the shame that followed it. They bear the responsibility. That personal statement could not have been made without their urging, and without their consent, and in the terms in which it was made save at their instigation and drafting.
The five right hon. Gentlemen also failed to appreciate the security issue involved, or indeed to understand the organisation of security services in the country. This matter turns mainly on the directive of September, 1952, when a great change was made and security was transferred to the personal responsibility of the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister said on 19th November:
The whole purpose of the directive was to make sure that it would be understood at all levels. I can give the hon. Member that assurance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 802.]
If that was his purpose, it signally failed. The fact is, and this emerges from all we know, that this directive of 1952 was ignored and it had been forgotten until it was disinterred by Lord Denning. It would be much better honestly to accept that. This directly affects the powers and
responsibilities of Parliament, because Parliament must know which Ministers are responsible for what. Parliament was not told anything for nine years after this directive. In nine years not a word was mentioned to Parliament, so that none of us could have had the slightest idea of whom we should ask what the responsibilities were.
Then we were told on the 13th June, 1961, by the right hon. Gentleman the then Prime Minister, but he told us in very sibylline language. This was not a statement; it was not even a direct answer to a question. It was one sentence in the middle of the fourth paragraph of a supplementary answer. This is all that we had. There was no indication that this was a statement on a great change of policy, which carried very major changes with it, in the organisation of security. Parliament was kept in the dark even after this statement of 13th June, 1961. We have been told recently by the Prime Minister that questions about security should in general be addressed to the Home Secretary. This was the first time that Parliament had been told that. It is goodness knows how long since the original directive was issued. It was the essence of the directive that questions should be directed to the Home Secretary. This was kept from us until 19th November last when we were told this by the Prime Minister.
The five right hon. Gentlemen were clearly ignorant of this organisation of security. Indeed, Lord Denning says so. They knew the security angles. They themselves, in the statement that they drafted, put in the name of Mr. Ivanov. They were aware that, in Mr. Profumo's personal statement which they drafted for him, tie Ivanov angle was sufficiently important to be put into this relatively short statement.
Then—the most extraordinary thing of all—they practically went out of their way to leave the Home Secretary out of their counsels and discussions. The Minister without Portfolio was present, not, we are told, as a sort of public relations officer, but because he had been there throughout the whole of the debate and knew what had been said. So had the Home Secretary. He had actually taken part in the debate. The Chief Whip had passed to him a statement, drafted by himself and the Law Officers, to be read out in response to things that had been said by some of my hon. Friends. So everybody knew that the Home Secretary had heard the whole of the debate and taken part in it, just as the Minister without Portfolio had.
The Home Secretary went home after 1.22 a.m., just about the time when the meeting of the five was being convened by the Chief Whip. They made immense efforts to get Mr. Profumo's solicitor there—enormous efforts—but not a thought was given either to keeping the Home Secretary from going home or getting him back after he had gone home—the man responsible for security—although all these five Ministers were aware, as they showed in the statement that they drafted, that there was a security angle in this issue.
It seems to me that the Chief Whip is primarily to blame. He convened the meeting. The Patronage Secretary, like every other hon. Member, has the right to defend himself. I should like to put to him two questions, and if he cares to take the opportunity to answer them I shall be happy to give way. I should like to ask him whether he knew on 21st March that the Home Secretary was personally responsible, as the directive says, for security, and if so why did he let him go home or why did he not send for him having let him go home. At any rate, I hope that the Home Secretary will justify his own exclusion. He is to speak. I trust that he can justify his exclusion in the most marked way—because he was there and available, and he was the man who was responsible for security—from this critical meeting of the five Ministers.
The most extraordinary aspect of all this is that the Home Secretary himself does not seem to have known that he was responsible for security. On 27th March he sent for the head of the security services "to be brought into the picture", as he said. It seems that he meant by this that he should be brought up to date with what other Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, knew. If he thought that the Prime Minister did not already know, why did he not pass the information on to the Prime Minister? This is a question that directly concerns him, and that he has a duty to answer in the House. What information had the right hon. Gentleman got?
He was the first Minister of all to hear reports that Dr. Ward had urged Christine Keeler to ask Mr. Profumo about the Americans' intention to provide the West Germans with the bomb. It was this information when it reached the Prime Minister on the 29th May—two months later—which led him, urged and prompted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, to set up the Lord Chancellor's inquiry. When the Prime Minister heard this identical information, two months later, he felt that he must set up the Lord Chancellor's inquiry. The Home Secretary was in possession of the self-same information within five days of Mr. Profumo's statement, and two months before the Prime Minister knew of it. He sat on it for two months, and he would have sat on it longer still had it not been for the fact that it reached the Prime Minister by another route.
It was in this period—during the two months in which the Home Secretary had this information in his possession and did not dream of passing it on to anyone else—that these scandalous rumours were beginning to spread. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman two simple questions. First, on 27th March, when the Home Secretary came into possession of this information, did he know that he was personally and directly responsible for the security services? If he did know, why did not he ask whether the Prime Minister had been told? If he had a direct personal responsibility, why did he assume that the Prime Minister already knew? He can have assumed that only if he also assumed that it was the Prime Minister and not himself who was responsible for security. It is a very simple question, and the House is entitled to a simple and straightforward answer.
For these failures Lord Denning should have more sharply condemned the Home Secretary and the five Ministers. But I do not agree with the point for which Lord Denning actually blames them—the famous crucial point, referred to by the Prime Minister, on page 58—that it was for them to concern themselves not with "whether Mr. Profumo had in fact committed adultery but whether his conduct (proved or admitted) was such as to lead ordinary people reasonably to believe that he had".
I feel that this would have been the wrong basis for judgment by the five Ministers. But to reject this ground for reproof is not to acquit the five, because there was a crucial question which Lord Denning did not mention—or if he was trying to mention it he did not do so with his usual clarity. The question that should have been asked was: was Mr. Profumo consorting with company that was fit and proper for a Minister of the Crown? Lord Attlee would have asked that question without dilly-dallying, and without consideration of party interests. He did in fact ask that very question in the John Belcher case, and John Belcher was hounded from public life for that very thing—consorting with company that it was not proper for a Minister of the Crown to consort with. That was the question for these right hon. Gentlemen—these men of the world—to have asked themselves. If they had asked it they could not have failed to give the proper answer.
In the light of the Denning Report on all this it seems to me that the right hon. Member for Bromley—who has explained to me why he could not be here—has a particular and unforgivable failure of his own to account for, which he did not mention in his speech today, namely, that he never saw Mr. Profumo face to face.
Here again, the Chief Whip shares the blame. In paragraph 131 of Lord Denning's Report it states:
Mr. Profumo asked if he should tell the Prime Minister at this stage. The Chief Whip thought that it was not necessary.
This was a very grave error of judgment by and on the part of the Chief Whip. Of course, the then Prime Minister must bear the chief blame.
Of course I have not read the whole of the Report. I have read the relevant part. I have not suppressed anything.
One of the major duties of a Prime Minister is to preserve the highest standards of public life, particularly among Ministers, and to talk out awkward problems with his colleagues. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West that this is a duty which a Prime Minister must not delegate. The then Prime Minister did delegate it to the Chief Whipand Ministers without Portfolios. But he must not delegate it, and this failure on the part of the Prime Minister was a lamentable and a fatal one. If he had acted with the scrupulous and alert sense of duty of Lord Attlee, this whole sorry story following on the personal statement of Mr. Profumo could have been avoided. I think that, in his heart the right hon. Gentleman must regret not what he did in this case but what he failed to do.
Of course, we want this whole story to be closed tonight. But there are one or two issues that will still remain with us and are of importance and which have been featured in this debate. One is the organisation of security, and the Denning Report throws a good deal of light on the organisation of security. I agree with the purpose as denned in the Directive of 1952, that the Security Service should act only in terms of the safety of the realm and should not pry into private affairs and should pass on such information only when it is relevant to security. I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that this is an important point. If a Minister, or some other person of high standing and in possession of great secrets, gets himself, through his personal behaviour, into a position where he is a security risk, then it is an improper application of this Directive to exclude reporting it, and to say the Service should not report on personal things save where they are relevant to security. They are relevant to security in a case where the Secretary of State for War, or a similar person, is involved.
My main point is that the 1952 Directive created a faulty chain of responsibility because, above all, in security matters one must have a really clear and unambiguous chain of authority. The Profumo case has shown, and it is clear in the nature of things, that we cannot eliminate the Prime Minister's responsibility. It cannot be shuffled off on to the Home Secretary. Security is of the greatest importance to the State because it may involve relations with other Governments, and members of the Government. The present system, from 1952—it was different before—is full of inescapable ambiguities. If we look at the Directive and at paragraph 239 of the Report, in which Lord Denning does his best, as a lawyer, to interpret the meaning of the Directive, we find that it is full of question-begging phrases. It is stated that the Security Service is not "in the ordinary way" responsible to the Prime Minister-raising all sorts of questions of what is meant by "ordinary way" and extraordinary way. It raises the matter that the Prime Minister has no direct responsibility and what that means.
I do not think that ambiguity and doubt in the chain of command is the right way to run the security services. This is a grave defect built into it since 1952, and the reasons against changing it given by Lord Denning seem to be very weak. He seems to have reproduced what was said to him, without assessing or judging it. In paragraph 239 (4) he says,
The Prime Minister…cannot in practice exercise adequate supervision, and he has not the secretariat for the purpose.
Lord Attlee was capable of exercising a satisfactory and effective control, although there were instances of spies, as there are bound to be. It is extremely important to get the organisation of security right because it is almost certain that there are spies and traitors now at work who will be caught. The secretariat to the Prime Minister can be changed and adapted. It may be right to give the Home Secretary responsibility for discipline and various other matters, but all responsibility for security in the proper sense should be clearly and exclusively for the Prime Minister. We cannot take it away from him and it is wrong to try to do so. Some of the troubles of the Profumo case spring from this. If they had gone to the Prime Minister instead of the Home Secretary on that day, or if they had been seen by the Prime Minister instead of the Home Secretary, much trouble would have been saved.
I think that that analogy is false. Defence has a Department entirely of its own and security has not. Security raises even greater matters than defence and the matters dealt with by the Chiefs of Staff. The Chiefs of Staff who are on the Defence Committee with the Prime Minister as Chairman have been in the Cabinet. This is a wholly different relationship. If the head of the security services constantly attended the Cabinet, it might be different.
Finally, I wish to comment on the remaining issue which seems still to be with us—the best way of inquiring into such exceptional events, whether by tribunal or by some other means. We should like to look at the details of the Prime Minister's suggestions—he did not give details about personnel—to see whether, broadly, on security matters this kind of special standing tribunal of inquiry, or whatever it is called, is the right sort of line to go on. There will be other cases in which it is essentially in the public interest to uncover the facts and the reason for that is that we must maintain the highest possible standards of public life. If there is a breakdown the only way to save those standards is to expose the facts ruthlessly and relentlessly. This is the only way in which one can restore the standards of public life.
This raises great and difficult problems. Perhaps it is wrong to say that we should find the best means to solve them; we should find the least objectionable means, because there are bound to be objections since, we are trying to do something which has inherent defects. I am sure that the Denning type of inquiry is the wrong type. I think that there may often be cases which could go to the Select Committee. There is a tendency by hon. Members opposite to exaggerate the incapacity of hon. Members to play a proper part on a Select Committee. Perhaps we are better behaved than they were in the past. But there will be some cases which will have to go to a tribunal, and here we must admit that there are faults inherent in the system which we cannot altogether remove.
By definition there is no charge, because if there were a criminal offence, it would be brought before the courts. The line between examination and cross-examination as therefore very slender. A witness may constantly find himself in danger without knowing it. It must be in public, because we have to satisfy the public in such a case. We must therefore accept that there are defects and do our utmost to remove them.
The chief improvement we can make is to see that directly it appears in the course of an inquiry that there is a case to answer, then the man faced with such a case to answer should be given time, if necessary through the adjournment of the tribunal, to prepare his answer, to be represented and, if necessary—what cannot be done today—to call counter witnesses on his own behalf.
I am not at all sure that the Attorney-General should be in charge of tribunals. These rare cases—and I hope that they will be very rare—will tend to involve party issue and angers. The Attorney-General will, therefore, be implicated in them, however hard he tries not to be.
We are all responsible in this matter. The Act was rushed through by Parliament within 24 hours and it has been left on the Statute Book for 40 years. We all have a duty to make it better, but we always seem to wait until a case is upon us; and then it is too late.
If we do nothing we will not know when the next case will arise and we may find ourselves once again forced to commit injustices, and we should not do that. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right when he says that these matters should go to a Select Committee for careful consideration and then for report and debate in the House. I do not think that we should let any time go by before we do that.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, at the beginning of today's debate, said that the one good thing that could come out of this debate is clarification of responsibility for security. I hope that the House will agree that I should begin my remarks on that theme; and I will seek, if I can and if there is time, to deal with as many of the major points as possible that have been raised during the debate.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) just alleged that the 1952 Directive was interred and forgotten about. Immediately I became Home Secretary, in July 1962, the 1952 Directive was shown to me. I discussed it at length with the head of the Security Service and I discussed what its implications were and how it should be interpreted. Since then I have had frequent, indeed constant, contacts with the Head of the Security Service. I met him from time to time in company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) when he was Prime Minister and, since then, with the present Prime Minister. There is, therefore, no truth whatever in any allegation that the 1952 Directive was unknown to either the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary.
The 1952 Directive says that the Security Service is not part of the Home Office and that the relationship between the responsible Minister and the Security Service is not the normal relationship that exists between the Minister in charge of a Department and the Department which the controls. Indeed, it is made clear that this is a fact in paragraph 6 of the Directive, which states:
You and your staff will maintain the well-established conventions whereby Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases, but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought".
That makes it perfectly clear that it should be accepted both by the Security Service itself and by the Home Secretary that the Home Secretary is not in the same position as he is in regard to his own Department, the Home Office, and as any other Minister is in regard to his Department—that he can ask any question he likes and expect it to be answered.
I would think it quite wrong to be constantly probing what the Security Service was doing in individual cases or asking it to be constantly reporting to me, or to the Prime Minister, about its investigations. The Security Service is, after all, a secret service. That is part of its essence. Its cost is borne on the Secret Vote and one must bear in mind, therefore, that the number of Parliamentary Questions which could be put to me with any hope of an answer being properly given is very limited. [Laughter.] I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would accept, as he has accepted hitherto, that it would be entirely wrong, for reasons of public interest, that Questions should be pressed on matters which are secret and which in the interests of the defence of the realm should remain secret. That is the reason why Questions on the kind of matters that deal with the operational workings of the Secret Service do not get asked in the House, and quite rightly so, because of our Parliamentary traditions.
The Questions that do get asked are Questions which go to the heart of the defence of the realm and those are the Questions which the Prime Minister himself would wish to answer. I will say to the Leader of the Opposition that there has been no dubiety, since the Denning Report appeared at least, about where the responsibility lay. It is four or five weeks now since this Session was opened and any hon. Member could have put down a Question to me about the Security Service. None has done so. I know that I may be stretching out my neck by saying this. It is indeed an interesting fact which shows how unlikely are Questions of detail to the Minister responsible for the Security Service.
Are we getting this right from the right hon. Gentleman? Is it the argument that Questions put to him would be put on detail, but they would not be allowed and so they are not put, and Questions affecting the security of the State must go to the Prime Minister? How does the right hon. Gentleman then explain the fact that the Prime Minister announced on 19th November that Questions on the Security Service should now be put to the Home Secretary? Did he mean that we should put to the Home Secretary only those Questions which would not be allowed, or did he mean that the Home Secretary would now start to answer the Questions which the Prime Minister up to now has been answering?
I am sure that the Chair would allow those Questions. The point I was seeking to make was that, despite what the Denning Report said, four or five weeks have passed and nobody, despite the invitation there, has put any Question to the Home Secretary. Nevertheless, I am completely open to Questions. [Laughter.] If the Opposition will listen, the point I am making is that the type of Question on security matters which gets put is a Question about a major issue, such as the security of the State in relation to a Blake case or a Vassall case which the Prime Minister naturally would answer himself. But the Prime Minister has made the position perfectly clear today, and all the time I have been Home Secretary I have not seen a single Question on the Paper which I would have expected a Prime Minister to transfer from himself to me—because he would regard it as a Question that he himself would wish to answer.
The Home Secretary is responsible for the Security Service, and despite what the right hon. Member for Smethwick has just said, I am sure that that is right. Whoever is responsible for the Security Service should also be the Minister responsible for the police, and that was clearly set out in Lord Denning's Report where he is quoting from Sir Norman Brook's advice. It would be extremely hard in these days, in my judgment, to separate responsibility for the Security Service as such from responsibility for the police as such, but it is not the Home Secretary who carries responsibility for security in each individual Government Department. He has no vicarious responsibility of that kind. He does not share joint responsibility with the Minister in charge of the Department. That rests, and should rest, with the Minister conerned. That was said in each of these Reports. It was confirmed by Denning and I do not think it has ever been challenged.
In the Vassall case the position was that everybody thought that the Security Service had done a remarkable detective job in uncovering Vassall's activities. The question was whether there had been any faults of security within the Admiralty, and that, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, is why there was no impropriety whatever in selecting Sir Charles Cunningham, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, as one of the people to conduct the initial inquiry into the Vassall case.
If I may pass on to the next point, an official of the Home Office was appointed as joint secretary to Lord Denning's inquiry, and was appointed with Lord Denning's approval just because of knowledge gained in the Home Office of police and security methods. It was the kind of knowledge that would be valuable to Lord Denning. But the Security Service is not a part of the Home Office. Indeed, Lord Denning said in his Report, in referring to the two joint secretaries, that their knowledge and experience had been of immense value.
The directive, now published for the first time, is of the highest importance in considering the responsibilities and activities of the Security Service. For example, the Security Service had no knowledge of any Profumo-Keeler relationship before January, 1963. Stephen Ward muddied these waters by alleging that he had told the Security Service in 1961 about this. He had not. The Profumo-Keeler relationship had ended in 1961. I know that at one time Christine Keeler mentioned the Cuba crisis. I think the one fact of which everybody who has had any discussion with that girl has been sure, is that she has no recollection of time. She may be a valid witness of what has happened, but she is certainly not a valid witness of when it has happened. There is no doubt whatever that the relationship—what has been described as the Profumo-Keeler relationship—ended in 1961. The Security Service had caused Profumo to be warned about Ward because of Ivanov in the summer of 1961. But throughout all these events, to the Security Service it was Ivanov who was the danger.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney)—I am sorry indeed that I missed his speech, but it has been reported to me—asked why the Foreign Office did not declare Ivanov persona non grata. Any such decision is a matter for the Foreign Secretary to judge what action, if any, should be taken in a particular case. There was no reason to think that Ivanov represented a danger to the State such as to warrant intervention by the Foreign Secretary, as I indeed Lord Denning's Report bears this out.
I was asked about the meeting which I summoned on 27th March, which Lord Denning said had been a very valuable meeting. I summoned that meeting because I wanted to get a personal report from the head of the Security Service and the Commissioner of Police to bring me right up to date about the whole matter. This happened. If the right hon. Member for Smethwick will read about that meeting in Chapter XIV of the Denning Report, he will see that I was told that
The security interest in the whole case was limited to Ivanov and his contacts",
I was told that
there had been statements by Christine Keeler and one or two others that Stephen Ward had urged Christine to ask Mr. Profumo for information about American intentions to provide the West Germans with the bomb. If these allegations were true, there might well be a case against Stephen Ward under the Official Secrets Act…we thought however that the witnesses in any such prosecution would prove unreliable and we were not inclined to pursue the matter".
As I say, from the point of view of the Security Service, the individual of security importance departed from this country on 29th January.
I am concerned much more that the Security Service should be concentrating on the defence of the Realm against attempts at espionage and sabotage and against actions subversive of the State than that it should be dispersing its hard-pressed resources—they are hard pressed—on to inquiries into the private lives of Members or Ministers. I bear in mind here what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) has said about the attack on the moral reputation of this country. But, in my judgment, when the Security Service has decided that the security interest has departed, it would not be right for me to seek to divert the resources of the Security Service, which, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, are all needed to meet the drive against our security defences, on to matters of personal relationships which the professional security experts say are not relevant to the defence of the Realm.
With hindsight, I am sorry that I did not check on that. Frankly, I assumed that they had. But, at that stage of things, I did not check on it, and, as I have said, I was not asking them to reveal to me what nobody else knew. I was asking them to bring me fully up to date. Indeed, I think that that meeting proves the point which I have been seeking to establish, that it is important that responsibility for the police and responsibility for the Security Service should be in the same hand. As Lord Denning said, the meeting was a valuable one.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today that a reading of the directive shows how easy it would be to cross the line between a free society and a police State. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) said that Parliament must pay attention to liberty and privacy as well as to security. That principle is implicit in the terms of the directive. But there is constant pressure on our security defences, as the Prime Minister said, and, in my view, the Security Service is very successful and very right in concentrating its resources on that and not turning aside, whether at the request of a Minister or anybody else, to follow up or to monitor events which appear to it not to be of the same relevance. Frankly, if the Security Service or the police pick up any information about Parliamentary private lives, I do not want them to come and tell me, if it is the fact that in their considered judgment there is no security interest involved.
Since the right hon. Gentleman has just admitted that he assumed that the security services had told the Prime Minister, and since he said that he asked about this information only so that he could be put in the picture, too, does it not show that there was a lamentable lack of information about who was really responsible? If the right hon. Gentleman thought that he was really responsible, it was his duty to pass it on, but when he suggests that he thought that the Prime Minister shared the responsibility with him and when there is this sharing of responsibility, do we not get the confusion which in fact occurred?
No. The right hon. Gentleman is assuming all the time that there was some security danger, whereas I was fully satisfied, as was Lord Denning, that the security danger had disappeared when Ivanov left the country on 29th January.
I come now to the question of the Security Commission. The Leader of the Liberal Party disliked the idea of this Security Commission. The Leader of the Opposition said that he would be glad to have further talks about it. The Leader of the Liberal Party said that he would prefer some kind of Parliamentary ombudsman. I did not disagree with the whole of his speech. I thought that he made some valid points. I agreed with him about the unsuitability of appointing a Minister for Security. I am sure that that would be a bad mistake. However, the right hon. Gentleman spoke as though the Security Commission would assess whether there was substance in rumours. I do not think that that is the concept which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has of this Security Commission. I should say that the Commission's purpose would rather be to investigate whether there had been a breakdown of security, as in the Vassall case, and to seek to pinpoint the responsibility and blame.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggested an immediate court of inquiry. I think that he was on the same tack as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. He will bear in mind that there is normally this complication, that a man may be awaiting trial on a criminal charge.
This is the sort of thing which is worth discussing in connection with the Security Commission, but the idea that one can leap straight into an inquiry of this kind must be tied in with the fact that there may be criminal proceedings pending which one must not prejudice. However, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he will join in these discussions.
I do not think that I can mention the Security Commission without referring to the 1921 Act. The Government have been giving a great deal of thought to this Act, and there has been a useful debate in connection with it in another place. A number of valid criticisms can be made against its present working. On the other hand, it is almost universally agreed that there must be some procedure by which a full, impartial and complete investigation can be made into the facts.
I hope that everybody will agree that, because of the difficulties inherent in the procedure, a tribunal should be set up only when it is absolutely necessary and that it should them be given terms of reference as precise as possible. The procedure for tribunals has been modified over the years. Each tribunal has benefited from the experience of its predecessors. The procedure adopted by the Radcliffe Tribunal went a great way to meet earlier criticisms. The Government are very doubtful whether it would be wise or practicable to lay down in a statute rules of procedure which were applicable to all cases. Our view is that it would be preferable to keep the present flexible procedure rather than to devise statutory rules which might hamper the tribunals without providing additional safeguards.
Our present conclusion is that, while there are undoubted difficulties, there is no clear way of overcoming those difficulties, and that there is little case for an independent inquiry into the procedures under the Act. That does not mean that in our view no further improvements are possible. Certain proposals were made recently in another place; they, and any suggestions which have been made today or are made in future, will certainly be considered by the Government. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a Select Committee can be taken up in the discussions which the right hon. Gentleman will have with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the Security Commission, which is not an unrelated subject.
The Leader of the Opposition would have preferred a Select Committee to the Denning Inquiry. That was cogently—indeed, devastatingly— answered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley in a memorable speech. The right hon. Member for Smethwick accused Ministers of gullibility and incompetence. I have answered the charge about incompetence. As to gullibility, if to believe what a colleague says is gullibility, then one is gullible, because that is the charge that can be brought. After the Galbraith case, however, I entirely understand how my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley was not prepared to throw Profumo to the wolves.
Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have accepted the Denning Report. The hon. Member for Dudley did not accept it, neither did the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), the answer to whose charges and to those of the right hon. Member for Smethwick is to be found in paragraph 178 of the Denning Report. I will not go over that again now.
Lord Denning found, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have accepted, that there has been no lowering of standards in this country. The Leader of the Opposition asserted that there were shortcomings in the higher direction of our Security Service. Lord Denning found otherwise. He said, in paragraph 272:
I find that they"—
that is, the security service—
covered the security interest fully throughout and reported to those concerned. Their principal interest was in Captain Ivanov, the Russian Intelligence Officer: and secondarily in Stephen Ward, as a close friend of his. They took all reasonable steps to see that the interests of the country were defended. In particular they saw that Mr. Profumo and another Minister were warned of Ward. They kept the Foreign Office fully informed. There is no reason to believe that there was any security leakage whatever.
The Leader of the Opposition has accepted that, as has the Prime Minister.
The Leader of the Opposition said that he withdrew nothing of his speech in June, yet Lord Denning's findings seem to conflict sharply with the statement by the Leader of the Opposition in that debate, when he said:
…it is clear, I think, that none of us can ever know whether there was" a leak
although the Government are clinging desperately to the argument that they do not
think that there was".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 46.]
The sentence which I have just read from the Denning Report confirms that the Government were right. [Interruption.] I will certainly read it again. Lord Denning said that there was no reason to believe that there was any security leakage and in another paragraph of the Report he said that there had been no lowering of standards in public life. I am content to leave it at that.