MR. Anthony Blunt

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:36 pm on 21st November 1979.

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Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford 8:36 pm, 21st November 1979

The idea that there has been a conspiracy from Buckingham Palace downwards against the national interest to protect a traitor and a Soviet spy takes some believing. The more the debate proceeds, the more this theory is seen to be the patent nonsense that it obviously is.

Two main issues have to be considered. The first is the squalid activities of the traitor Blunt and the Soviet spying system in this country. The second and perhaps more important, for the future, is the control and the accountability of the Security Service.

The Security Service is a major element in the protection of our democracy and our national security. It is those very freedoms that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) so eloquently put before the House that the activities of our security services are fundamentally designed to protect and preserve from treachery and treason.

I do not believe that the security services in this country are much different in their make-up from any other organisation. A survey of the security services and of Members of Parliament would probably reveal at least as much integrity, sanity and dedication in the security services as was found in Parliament. Some would fall short of the views and standards that we believe Members of Parliament should uphold. Likewise, in the security services, there would no doubt be one or two who fall below those standards. I would guess that, overwhelmingly, like other organisations, they are composed of loyal and dedicated people who sincerely try to perform a difficult job.

The Blunt case is a further example of the whole squalid business of treachery. This is a man who, by his own admission, betrayed his country on the pretext of conscience and loyalty to his friends. When confronted with possible exposure, and perhaps even eventual arrest, he found that his battered and tattered conscience could be betrayed, along with his friends, in order to secure his immunity from any further prospect of prosecution. That is the essence and nature of treachery itself. There is no loyalty to anything. It is a travesty of the word "conscience" to pray it in aid as a reason why someone becomes a spy and a traitor against his own country.

The passage of time may have lessened the whole impact on our security of the Burgess, Maclean, Philby, and now the Blunt, disclosures. I do not believe that the passage of time has eroded the danger that we still face from foreign espionage in this country or the danger that continues through the fomenting of the idea in the mind of the general public that the Blunt case is a conspiracy of the Establishment.

We cannot leave the Philby-Maclean-Burgess—and now the Blunt—case as it stands. There must be an inquiry. There are innocent as well as guilty men still under the shadow of suspicion, and it is time this unsavoury episode was laid to rest, if laid to rest it can be. I am clear in my own mind that there should be an inquiry to try to clear this matter up as far as is humanly possible.

I know that a number of my hon. Friends are very much against the use of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. I believe that that would be precisely the right avenue along which to pursue the Maclean-Philby-Blunt episode. It would clear the air of the stench of treason committed by that small clique of traitors.

Lord Justice Salmon's report on tribunals and commissions of inquiry comes down firmly in favour of tribunals of inquiry under the 1921 Act to deal with matters of this importance to the nation. Contrary to what some people believe, that is really what Salmon says—that it is the avenue that should be used in matters of national crisis and national confidence, and particularly in matters of security.

I hope that the Government will, without waiting to be pushed into it, concede some form of inquiry—it may not be the 1921 form; they may find some other way—into that sordid episode so that we can at least try to end that nonsense.

There have been major changes in security matters since 1951. They are all published and on the record. Numerous reports have been presented to Parliament setting out clearly the policies under which the Security Service operates. I give one illustration. The whole business of vetting, which has been adequately reported to Parliament, cannot ensure that another nest of traitors will not emerge, but at least the possibility is minimised by the system that now operates when people enter the public service.

There are some people—I count myself among them—who say that the system of positive vetting should include politicians when they take certain offices. It should not be applied when they are elected to the House—that would be intolerable—but we should accept when a politician goes into certain areas that there must not be one rule for those whom he governs and contols and another for himself. I hope that the Government will give consideration to that matter, in joint talks with other parties in the House.

The public and Parliament are entitled to an assurance that the security services are under proper control, and that the rules laid down by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and confirmed in the Denning report, and now further adjusted and perhaps improved—I have not had a chance to study the full implications of what the Prime Minister said about the three or four extra provisions that she is introducing—are being applied and are adequate to meet the present situation.

I do not believe that we can simply leave the matter at the end of the debate, saying "We have these one or two additions that the Prime Minister has outlined." We need further deep consideration of this matter. It must be separated from the inquiry into the Burgess-Maclean-Philby business, which stands on its own, to be dealt with on its own.

There must be a separate inquiry into the question of the future and the control of the Security Service. I am not in favour of a Select Committee's dealing with these matters. I believe that the Security Commission already established could, given fresh terms of reference, be the body for the Prime Minister to ask to review the rules, their application and their adequacy.

The first question that must be examined concerns a point partly touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East. It is whether all the security services, whatever Department of State they may happen to fall into, should be brought under one centre of Government control and ministerial responsibility or whether we need a small ministerial security committee composed of appropriate Secretaries of State with varying degrees of responsibility. Should we have a senior Minister of State attached to the Home Office under the present laws whose prime function would be the day-to-day oversight of the Security Service? He would have regular and frequent meetings with the heads of the Security Service and its operational chiefs and would be able to report direct to the Home Secretary.

If we seriously wish to improve governmental and, therefore, democratic control of the Security Service, we should consider these questions. I believe that a Security Commission with new terms of reference should examine the problems. We should consider what value there might be in the Commission's being charged with a continuing responsibility for the oversight of the application of the policies and, in some cases, the operations of the Security Service. Are we satisfied that the existing arrangements which have developed from 1952 are sufficient? Is the crucial role of the Home Secretary acceptable, and is it the best way of proceeding in this highly sensitive and secret area?

Public interest is such that it is not possible to leave matters where they are. We should give detailed and careful consideration to the future. I believe that the best way to conduct that review is under a Security Commission with new terms of reference. I hope that that proposal will be acceptable to the Government.

Treason and subversion are not figments of journalistic imagination. History, both ancient and modern, has proved that. Treachery, treason and subversion have been with us since almost the beginning of time. The Security Service is an essential factor in the defence of democracy. Those members of it who serve the nation are entitled to the understanding and support of Government, Parliament and the public. For that understanding and support, and for the efficiency and morale of the Security Service, we need clearer rules and proper accountability to a democratic Parliament. As much as anybody else, the Security Service is entitled to the reassurance that can come only from a review of the rules, methods and policies under which it operates.