Wilson Doctrine

Wilson Doctrine

The Wilson Doctrine is a ban on the tapping of UK MPs' and Peers' (but not members of devolved legislatures) telephones introduced in 1966 and named after Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister who established the rule.

He gave MPs a pledge that their phones would not be tapped and subsequent prime ministers have regularly confirmed it remains in place. However the pledge was qualified in two respects, as the Intelligence and Security Committee made clear in their 2005-06 Annual Report: [ISC Annual Report 2005-06 Cm 6864 June 2006 Para 26.]

Quote|'In 1966 the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, gave instructions that therewas to be no interception of telephones belonging to Members of Parliament, andthat if there were a development which required a change of this policy he would, atsuch a moment as was compatible with the security of the country, make a statementabout it in the House of Commons. This approach, known as the Wilson Doctrine,has been maintained under successive administrations.'

This meant that the Prime Minister could reverse the doctrine in the interests of national security, but that he did not need to reveal the fact to the House of Commons until he felt it safe to do so. In theory this means that the Wilson Doctrine could already have been reversed, with the Prime Minister having decided it was premature to disclose the fact.

In January 2006, Interception of communications commissioner Sir Swinton Thomas had asked the government to reconsider the implications of the doctrine on the regulatory framework established under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed he would be considering whether or not the ban should be lifted, in order to comply with the act.

However, in March 2006 - in a written ministerial statement - Tony Blair said that following a period of fresh consultation, the 'Wilson doctrine' will remain in place.

In February 2007, Sir Swinton Thomas again called for the ban to be removed, cite web |author=Richard Norton-Taylor |publisher= The Guardian |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2017037,00.html |title=Watchdog urges end to ban on MP phone taps |date=2007-02-20 |accessdate=2008-02-04] saying:

In September 2007 Prime Minister Gordon Brown reaffirmed the doctrine as "The Wilson Doctrine applies to all forms of interception that are subject to authorisation by Secretary of State warrant." [citation|url=http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070912/text/70912w0013.htm#07091234000025|title=Written Answers for 12 September 2007 - Members: Surveillance|author=Gordon Brown|publisher=Hansard|id=12 Sep 2007 : Column 2103W|accessdate=2008-02-04]

In February 2008 an incident was reported where MP Sadiq Khan was allegedly bugged whilst talking to a constituent in Woodhill Prison. This appears to have been a face to face conversation and thus, even if it was bugged, that may not have been a literal breach of the Wilson Doctrine.


ee also

*Harold Wilson conspiracy theories
*Spycatcher, a book alleging some staff of MI5 plotted against Harold Wilson's government

External links

* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4860850.stm Ban on phone tapping MPs remains] , BBC News
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4614122.stm MP phone tap ban 'may be lifted'] , BBC News
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7225209.stm No 10 denies MP 'bugging' tip-off] , BBC News, Feb 2008

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