Submission to the Advisory Council on Public Records

18 September 1998

By Dr Julian Lewis MP
Secretary, Conservative Parliamentary Defence Committee

1. Reflecting on his experiences as a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee in the Second World War and subsequently as Secretary-General of NATO in the Cold War, General Lord Ismay set out the handicap of democracies in a dangerous world.

“It is easy to criticise peaceful democracies with their inherent hatred of war,”

he wrote,

“but it is only fair to note that the odds are stacked against them. Dictators bent on aggression can choose when to strike, where to strike and how to strike. Their victims – the democracies – do not know when or where the blow will fall, or what manner of blow it will be.”

2. It is this problem, more than any other, which has fuelled my concern that records of the Security Service relating to overt and covert supporters of and sympathisers with Nazis, Communists and other enemies of democracy, should be preserved for eventual release to future historians.

3. In the run-up to the Second World War and during the years of the Cold War, it was difficult to alert public opinion to the very real threats to our democratic way of life posed by potential aggressors abroad. One reason for this was the presence in Britain of organisations and individuals who sided with or sought to excuse the actions of Fascists, Nazis or Communists. Some actively supported those systems and many denounced their critics as "warmongers" or "McCarthyites".

4. During the early 1980s, when the Second Cold War was at its height, those who believed that western security depended on NATO going ahead with its planned nuclear force modernisations had one great advantage: they could point to what had happened as a result of disarmament and appeasement policies in the 1930s as an awful warning. Sadly, those who opposed the weaknesses of our policies in the 1930s had no similar precedents to cite. Only many years after the war was it finally revealed that the security service had long been aware of Mussolini's secret financing of Sir Oswald Mosley's movement in the 1930s – despite his numerous denials of this throughout his lifetime.

5. Research in the Soviet archives has revealed the fact that, at least until 1979, the Communist Party of Great Britain was secretly funded by very large cash injections from Soviet sources, handed over to its Treasurer, Reuben Falber, by the KGB. I do not know whether the Security Service was aware of this funding, before it emerged from the Soviet archives, but it certainly was aware of the extent to which the CPGB promoted and supported many other causes, campaigns and other organisations.

6. One main reason for preserving the files showing the involvement of groups and individuals with extreme Right causes before the war and extreme Left causes after the war, is to serve as a lesson and as a warning to democrats in the future about how easy it is, during a confrontation, for pressure to be put on their governments by those who sympathise with their adversaries.

7. It can thus be seen that the preservation of files on such people and groups would serve a practical as well as an historical purpose when eventually made available for inspection. Who are the types of people and which are the organisations whose records should be kept? I suggest the following:–

(a)        People prominent in public life who were openly or secretly involved with Fascist or Communist groups or causes. These would include any current or former Ministers, MPs or peers.

(b)        People prominent in commercial or industrial life who were openly or secretly involved with Fascist or Communist groups or causes. These would include industrialists, financiers, businessmen and trade union officials.

(c)        Opinion-formers who were openly or secretly involved with Fascist or Communist groups or causes. These would include journalists and educationalists who used their positions to manipulate public opinion and to inculcate pupils or students in favour of totalitarian regimes.

8. It is understandable that people who sided with Communist causes now wish the record to be air-brushed out of existence, just as those who supported Fascism and Hitlerism did at the end of the Second World War. However, because of the reluctance of democracies to take threats against them sufficiently seriously in peacetime, it is important that an accurate record should survive of the extent to which some of their citizens were prepared to co-operate with and support the very systems which threatened democracy itself.

9. Finally, it is worth noting the statement on page 25 of the 1998 edition of the official booklet MI5 – The Security Service, that problems were caused in the late 1960s

"when the Service faced difficulties investigating some spy cases because relevant records had been destroyed".

What this means is that the unpredictability of future dangers requires care to be taken in deciding what to preserve for operational as well as for historical reasons. The present disarray in Russia may well be resolved in favour of a democratic outcome. Let us hope so. It cannot be ruled out, nevertheless, that the Communists who now dominate the Russian Parliament may, over time, once again constitute a threat. It would be gross irresponsibility for the Security Service to behave as if there was no possibility of people who sided with our adversaries in the past posing a renewed threat at some time in the future.