Wilson Doctrine

Prime Minister written statement – made at on 30 March 2006.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

In answer to questions in the House of Commons on 17 November 1966, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Harold Wilson MP, said that he had given instructions that there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of Parliament and that if there were a development which required a change of policy he would at such a moment as was compatible with the security of the country make a statement in the House about it. This approach, known as the Wilson Doctrine, has been maintained under successive administrations.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 updated existing laws and set in place new legal procedures governing the interception of communications carried on both public and private telecommunications systems. I advised the House in a Written Ministerial Statement on 15 December 2005, Hansard, column 173WS, that I had received advice from the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Swinton Thomas, on his view of the implications for the Wilson Doctrine of the regulatory framework established under that Act.

It was Sir Swinton's advice, taking into account the new and robust regulatory framework governing interception and the changed circumstances since 1966, that the Wilson Doctrine should not be sustained.

I have considered Sir Swinton's advice very seriously, together with concerns expressed in this House in response to my written ministerial statement on 15 December. I have decided that the Wilson Doctrine should be maintained.


Ken Kilfedder
Posted on 29 Nov 2006 8:57 am (Report this annotation)

It seems that the Wilson Doctrine can be summarised as "We won't tap your phones unless we decide we need to, in which case we'll tell you- afterwards".

Karen Jemmett
Posted on 16 Dec 2008 10:48 pm (Report this annotation)

It's ludicrous to suggest that MPs' phones are not routinely tapped, given the high level of surveillance everybody is now under in the UK. I have assumed for a long time that a Cheka-style surveillance system is in place with individual security officers assigned to listen into what everyone in public life is saying privately. I think it's a complete nonsense to pretend otherwise, frankly!

Furthermore, tv series like Spooks have been transparent in highlighting many of the dubious methods practised by our security services. For God's sake, if they can sedate someone by secretly drugging the coffee in a hospital drinks dispenser, I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to bug an MP's phone if they wanted to. In any case, I always thought the Tabloid press spied on everyone in the public eye. How else would they have ever got their hands on the infamous Camila Tapes, after all?

No, on reflection, I think we were all much more naive about things in the 1960s when Harold was in Downing Street.