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Security (D-Notices)

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 11 May 1961

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asked the Prime Minister which Minister is responsible for preparing the D-list; how many copies are circulated; and to whom, in addition to newspaper editors, this document is sent.

Ministerial responsibility for D-notices rests on the Minister responsible for the subject covered by the notice. The circulation varies according to the subject matter.

We appreciate that the Prime Minister has little time for effective general supervision of our Secret Service. Is it not rather ridiculous to continue this relic of war-time censorship for the purpose of concealing information which a potential enemy already knows? Will he put copies of this document in the Library so that hon. Members can judge for themselves the futility of what was issued in connection with the George Blake case?

No, Sir. It can hardly be described as a relic of war-time procedure, as it began in 1912. Secondly, I think that there were advantages in this procedure, and they have been of importance.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the question of the D-list and the handling of the Press in this matter is quite distinct from the broader issues of the Blake case, on which I understand he is to make a statement later? Is he aware that there is a good deal of anxiety about how this D-list operated on this occasion? Can he throw any light on how it was that when British newspapers were asked not to publish certain in formation, this information was nevertheless published, presumably becoming available——

Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is trespassing on Question No. 49, unless I hace misunderstood the situation.

I hope that I am not wrong. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question was anticipating Question No. 49.

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, but it was not my intention to anticipate Question No. 49. If you will wait until I have finished my question, you will see that it arises out of Question No. 41.

I am referring to the question of the D-list, which is not referred to in Question No. 49, and I am asking whether on this occasion the issue of the notice concerning the D-list was not one of the factors which appears to have resulted, no doubt indirectly, in far more publicity being given to this matter than would otherwise have been the case?

No, Sir. I think that it had the opposite effect, and quite an important element of time was involved.

But was it not also the case—[Interruption.] I cannot understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite are not interested in this important question. Is it not the case that first the British Press was asked not to publish certain information, then not to publish what was in foreign newspapers, and was then allowed to publish it? Does not this suggest that the whole way in which this question of the D-list was handled was really very unsatisfactory on this occasion?

No, Sir. I still think—and I have discussed this, but I cannot publicly discuss it—that there were reasons why some advantage in time was important.