PM questioned on MI5 reports about ministers

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister has been asked whether Stella Rimington, Director-General of the Security Service, has made any report to him about the possibility of a ministerial security risk.

Commons questions tabled for answer on Monday by Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, are thought to have been inspired by Westminster rumours - in part, police-inspired - about the private life of a minister.

In November 1979, Margaret Thatcher told the Commons the lines of communication between MI5 and the Prime Minister had been clarified. If the Director-General received 'information about a present or former minister or senior public servant indicating that he may be, or may have been, a security risk', a report should be made to the Prime Minister of the day; either directly, or indirectly through the Home Secretary.

Mr Milburn has asked the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on how many occasions in each year since 1979, and so far in 1992, such reports have been made by the Security Service.

In his definitive report on the Profumo affair and related issues, Lord Denning said in September 1963: 'All the rumours reported to me were to the effect that a minister or person prominent in public life had been guilty of immorality or discreditable conduct of some kind or other. But it is not every piece of immorality or discreditable conduct which can be said to be a 'security risk'. In my opinion immorality or discreditable conduct is only a security risk if it is committed in such circumstances that it might expose the person concerned to blackmail or to undue pressures which might lead him to give away secret information.

'For instance, I would normally regard homosexual behaviour, or perverted practices with a prostitute, as creating a security risk, at any rate if it was of recent date.

'Again, I would not ordinarily regard adultery as a security risk, at any rate when committed clandestinely with a person who was not likely to resort to blackmail. Much must depend, however, on the circumstances.'

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary are likely to tell Mr Milburn that they do not discuss security matters. But his questions would ensure that both MI5 and John Major were satisfied that no such risk existed. That could well lance the boil of current rumours. A similar device was successfully deployed in June 1984, when rumours were circulating about the private life of a senior minister.