Thatcher says no evidence on Rothschild
The Prime Minister said last night no evidence existed to suggest Lord Rothschild, former head of the Downing Street “think tank,” had ever been a Soviet agent.
Her brief statement came just 24 hours after she had stunned MPs by refusing to immediately clear the peer of allegations that he was the “fifth man” after his personal appeal.
Mrs Thatcher said: “I have now considered more fully Lord Rothschild 's letter in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, in which he referred to innuendoes that he had been a Soviet agent.
“I consider it important to maintain the practice of successive governments of not commenting on security matters. But I am willing to make an exception on the matter raised in Lord Rothschild 's letter.
“I am advised that we have no evidence that he was ever a Soviet agent.”
Lord Rothschild, who was a wartime M15 officer, was informed by Downing Street of the Prime Minister's announcement shortly before it was made at 5pm.
Although Mrs Thatcher declined five times in the Commons on Thursday to give the public assurance demanded by Lord Rothschild, she had already begun consulting ministers and officials about his request.
Those discussions continued yesterday and while Mrs Thatcher would have preferred to have made a statement to the Commons, she believed it was crucial her decision was made known as quickly as possible.
As head of the security services, the Prime Minister will have spoken to Sir Antony Duff, Director-General of M15, as well as Cabinet colleagues before making her statement.
But it was unclear last night if she was shown the “unequivocal, repeat unequivocal, evidence” which Lord Rothschild insisted M15 possessed to prove his innocence.
The form of words used by Mrs Thatcher in clearing Lord Rothschild is similar to those employed by her in 1981 when she said there was no proof that Sir Roger Hollis, former head of M15, had worked for the Russians.
In spite of the negative tone of her statement, Mrs Thatcher appeared to have satisfied Conservative MPs, taken aback by her initial reluctance to immediately clear Lord Rothschild.
Mr Tim Brinton, Conservative MP for Gravesham, who invited the Prime Minister on Thursday to protect Lord Rothschild 's reputation against false innuendoes and smears, said: “It was quite clear from her answer then that she needed time so that various people could consider the matter, rather than make a spot decision off the top of her head.”
Mr Roy Hattersley, deputy Labour leader, said: “I am relieved and I am sure that Lord Rothschild is very relieved. There remains some doubt about why Mrs Thatcher did not make the statement yesterday.”
Mr Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington, who signed a Commons motion last month raising the possibility of Lord Rothschild being linked to previous spy scandals, said: “I am glad the Prime Minister has felt able to make a statement clearing away these allegations.”