Telephone Tapping

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1967.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Croydon South 12:00 am, 26th January 1967

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review existing practices of authorised telephone tapping in non-criminal matters.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I have nothing to add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in answer to Questions on 17th November last.—[Vol. 736, c. 634–41.]

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Croydon South

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep disquiet which exists in the country at the ever-increasing amount of telephone tapping, perhaps for political or for divorce reasons? Would he really not agree that it is time telephone tapping ceased in this country once and for all?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

No; I do not accept my hon. Friend's premises. I can assure him that the present practice conforms fully with the recommendations of the Committee of Privy Councillors which reported in 1957. I have nothing to say beyond that.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Question does not refer to the kind of practices which were dealt with by the Committee of Privy Councillors but rather with the invasion of privacy by people who are not authorised to be used for telephone tapping? Would he look into that?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I think, with great respect to my hon. Friend, that this Question refers to authorised telephone tapping, though there is on the Paper another Question which refers to unauthorised tapping.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has completed his study of the implications of unauthorised telephone tapping; and if he will now introduce legislation to make this practice unlawful.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I am keeping a close watch on the position, but I have at present no firm evidence to indicate that legislation would be appropriate.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

As the 1957 White Paper clearly suggested that Parliament might wish to consider whether the unauthorised tapping of telephones ought to be made an offence, and as there have been technical advances since then which make tapping easier, and probably more widespread, surely there is a clear-cut case for making unauthorised tapping unlawful?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I think one has to be satisfied that there is a substantial evil, and I think that there may well be, but one also has to be satisfied that legislation could deal with it effectively. I am open to receive representations, and to receive any evidence about the prevalence of the position if the hon. Gentleman wishes to send it to me.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

Now that we have reached the proper Question, may I put my supplementary question and ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that in a number of recent cases, particularly divorce cases, judges have cast strictures on inquiry agents who have used telephone tapping or bugging devices to collect evidence, and that it is this kind of incident which is on the increase? Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to deal with this matter is to institute a civil action for damages, rather than a criminal prosecution? This might be the better way of dealing with it.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I shall certainly look at that, but I think that it would be strictly outside the scope of the Home Department.