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Security (Conference Of Privy Councillors)

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 11 May 1961

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asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied that the recommendations mentioned in paragraph 8 of the Conference of Privy Councillors on Security of 1956, Command Paper No. 9715, have been carried out, especially in view of the fact that paragraph 4 of that report refers specifically to the danger of espionage by people subject to Communist influence.

The recommendations of the Conference of Privy Councillors were implemented in full by instructions subsequently issued to Departments.

Are we to take it that they were totally ineffective in the Blake case, because the Blake case seems to be absolutely on all fours with the danger to which the Privy Councillors drew attention of people who are either contacts of Communism or may be indoctrinated by Communism?

No. I think that the instructions have been carried out, but in one case—the Admiralty case—a Committee is sitting to examine whether they have been carried out in the form in which they were approved by the Privy Councillors or whether there has been some dereliction of duty on that matter. On the larger question, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will await the statement I propose to make at the end of Questions.


asked the Prime Minister by what authority, and for what purpose, Her Majesty's Government requested the British Press to refrain from publishing information which had already appeared in the foreign Press.

I have already explained in my reply to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) the basis on which guidance is given to the Press in such cases. The Lord Chief Justice decided in the public interest to hear the case of George Blake in camera. For the same reasons it was undesirable that there should be speculation at that time about the details of the case.

Will the Prime Minister tell us, in view of his earlier reply, which Minister made this decision? Is he aware that what worries a number of people in the House is the belief that on this occasion the procedure was used not to protect the British public and British security but to protect Her Majesty's Ministers? There seems to be no other reason for it.

In answer to the first part of the question, I personally authorised it. With regard to the second part of the supplementary question, I absolutely repudiate what the hon. Gentleman said.

Can the Prime Minister throw any light on why the foreign Press published a great deal of information about this case when the British Press was not permitted to do so? Does he agree that it is very unfortunate that so much publicity has been given to this, doing almost as serious damage as the case itself? Will he give us rather fuller answer in this respect?

I would rather not add anything publicly to the position I have taken. There were some advantages from the time lag. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman privately exactly what happened.

Does the Prime Minister agree that, if this system is used to keep things out of the British Press which are in the foreign Press and, therefore, known to everyone in the world except the British people, it is getting very close to political rather than security censorship?

That is not the case. I am quite satisfied that it was right, for a number of reasons which I do not wish to reveal, to issue this statement on that day.

Is the Prime Minister aware, as I said earlier, that this is in our view a quite distinct issue from the subject of the statement? Has he inquired into the question how the foreign Press obtained this information? Even if he cannot give us an answer, can he give us at least an assurance that the matter has been inquired into? It is very serious.

Is the Prime Minister taking any steps to ensure that this kind of leakage, as I think it clearly was, does not happen again?

It was not exactly leakage. I can explain to the right hon. Gentleman privately what happened.

Is the Prime Minister telling the House that Members of Parliament and members of the British public are not entitled to the same amount of information as is readily available to the nationals of other nations?

That is not the point. The point is whether, in the circumstances which came to my attention, when I heard the circumstances of the case, I was right to authorise the issuing of this notice. We never discuss in this House matters of this kind. I am satisfied that what I did was right, and what happened subsequently confirms me that it was an advantage.

Would the Prime Minister tell us if it was the issuing of the D-notice which provided the information to the foreign Press, or did it obtain it in some other way?

No, it was not the issuing of the D-notice, which was rigorously observed, broadly, by the Press, but an incident occurred later which to that extent weakened the position, but not altogether destroyed the purpose which we had in mind.

May I ask the Prime Minister to tell the House candidly whether it was an error that this information got into the foreign Press, and, if so, how it happened; or, if it was not an error, how he justifies it? I can understand the reasons for the D-notice, but the whole basis on which the D-notice procedure rests will be completely destroyed if information which is forbidden to the British Press is allowed to leak out to the foreign Press.

I am sure that, quite unintentionally, the Prime Minister makes it very difficult for those who want to approach this not only in a responsible way but even to the point of withholding questions which otherwise ought to be asked. If he makes the kind of answer which he did to the last supplementary question, one has to ask who is he alleging planted it? Was it planted from here or from America? It seems a little unlikely that the Herald-Tribune had it planted from Russia, which would be very difficult; or what does he mean?

I do not wish to take it any further, except to say that if the House does not trust me—I hope it trusts my personal word—I believe that what I did was right and had some advantage. It is true that the advantage was not sustained for as long a period as I had hoped. I think there was advantage in it, and that what I did was right. I cannot go further than that for reasons which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will understand.