New Writ (Epping Forest)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county constituency of Epping Forest, in the room of Sir John Alec Biggs-Davison, Knight, deceased.-- [Mr. Waddington.]
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I gave you notice, Mr. Speaker, that since this motion is, according to "Erskine May", pages 326 and 327, debatable, I hope, succinctly, to raise some issues on it. I wish to ask either the Lord President of the Council or the Government Chief Whip why it should be that there is a writ relating to Epping Forest but that there is no suggestion of a writ relating to Richmond, Yorks. I think that I am entitled to ask that question. As has been pointed out, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is still a Member of Parliament, but that raises the whole question of the different treatment of constituencies that are vacated by death and those that are vacated by some of our number, be they Conservative or Labour Members of Parliament, going off to another job in mid-term.
I did not, uncharacteristically, give notice to my hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip that I intended to raise these questions, on the ground that this is a House of Commons matter, not a party matter. If I put it in those terms, Conservative Members may understand that I am not trying to gain any party advantage. I want to raise the vital question of Members of Parliament going off in mid-term to another job and whether they should be accommodated and facilitated. Whether we like it or not, I suspect that the electorate does not. You, Mr. Speaker, will recollect the history of the matter. George Wigg, who represented Dudley, went off to the Horserace Betting Levy Board.
Mr. Dalyell : I am asking whether there is any difference in the treatment of by-elections caused by death or by one of our number going off to what may be a very hard and daunting task, but one that is nevertheless seen too often by the electorate as a cushy number. I am reminded of a number of cases--George Wigg, Herbert Bowden going off to ITV, Tom Fraser to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, David Marquand to the European Commission, Roy Jenkins to the European Commission, Fred Peart to the House of Lords, and Matthew Parris. Before we go any further, the House of Commons should seriously discuss whether it is proper that those who are privileged to be elected, as we all are, ought to be allowed in mid-term to go off to other jobs. Death is excusable-- [Laughter.]
Mr. Dalyell : Going on to another position is quite different. I should like to ask the Lord President in courteous terms if he will explain, before the House endorses the issuing of the Epping writ, why the Epping and Richmond by-elections are being treated differently.
Before the Richmond writ is issued, will the House have an opportunity for a serious discussion on whether we should accommodate a right hon. and learned Member who, like no other hon. Member during my 26 years in the House, has treated a Select Committee of the House, which has been asked by the House to do a job--
Mr. Dalyell : The timing is incorrect because it is mighty odd, given recent political history, that the Richmond writ is not before us but the Epping one is. Timing may well be something to do with that. As things stand, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks is not a proper person for this House to send to the European Community. If he is a proper person--
Mr. Dalyell : This is a perfectly serious point. The House of Commons cannot have it both ways. Perhaps the cause of the delay arises out of the fact that, if a writ is to be issued for Richmond, the right hon. and learned Member must be a proper person to be sent to this very important job as Britain's vice-president of the European Commission. He has to be seen to be blameless. If he is blameless, then the Prime Minister most certainly is not.
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced parliamentarian. I ask him to bring his remarks to a conclusion on this matter and not to go into the question of a writ for a by-election which has not yet been announced.
Mr. Dalyell : You do me the courtesy, Mr. Speaker, of saying that I am an experienced parliamentarian. It is precisely because of that and the fact that, rightly or wrongly, I have been here for 26 years that I care very much that the House of Commons should be treated properly. That is why I am doing this unusual thing--raising questions on the issue of a writ. I am anxious that Members on both sides of the House and all parties in it should be treated properly by its Members. The House is entitled to the truth from any and all of its Members. That is why I ask these questions of the Lord President. 2.43 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : I understand the sensitivity of an hon.Member for Scotland on the subject of by-elections in Scotland, but the simple truth is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is a Member of this House, and no questions about by- elections arise in his case until he ceases to be a Member. In that event, the normal practice will apply. The House knows that, when there is to be a by-election, the Chief Whip of the party
Column 113which previously held the seat moves the writ within four months of a vacancy arising. That is what is happening today, and there can be no reasonable objection to it.
Conservative Members did not object when the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) moved the writ for the Govan by-election, although he might have thanked us had we done so. Sir John Biggs-Davison, sadly, died on 17 September. The electors of Epping Forest have a right to expect that the writ for the by-election will be moved within a reasonable time and that once again they will be represented in this House.
I hope that the House will now agree to the motion.
The House has suffered a sad loss with the death of Sir John Biggs-Davison. One of the things for which I best remember him was his total opposition to one-person-operated buses. It was a concern that we shared, and I sadly miss his assistance in trying to turn the Government from continuing a course that is unwelcome in Epping as much as it is in my constituency of Newham, North-West.
Epping is not a million miles from Newham, North-West in geographic terms-- although it very well could be in economic terms. We should postpone consideration of the writ for one very good reason. Hon. Members and many people who live in Epping go to see West Ham United play football in my constituency, in the borough of Newham. Before we have a by-election in Epping, I think that we should wait and see the result of the Government's proposals for the introduction of identity cards. I understand that this highly controversial piece of legislation will start its process towards the statute book in the House of Lords. I think that that is absolutely wrong, and I am using this occasion to voice my opposition. We have heard a lot about Roy of the Rovers--from whom we shall hear a little more when he speaks from the Opposition Front Bench--but, frankly, the idea of Lord Bertie Denham of the Rovers does not seem appropriate.
I believe that we should postpone consideration of the writ until the electors in Epping have had a chance to see
Column 114precisely what the Government are proposing and we have had an opportunity to have that controversial legislation started here. In many ways that could influence the outcome of the by- election in Epping.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Perhaps you, Mr Speaker, would consider one aspect arising from this debate. Had the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) been appointed Steward or Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, his seat would have been immediately vacated on the ground that it was an office of profit under the Crown. He has actually been appointed to an office of profit under the European Commission which, as anybody knows, requires him to take an oath to uphold the Community in all its proceedings. Therefore, the House will have to consider at some stage whether a political appointment with powers over the House of Commons, involving the taking of an oath that runs counter to the oath that he took as a Member of Parliament, ought to be considered as an appointment comparable to an office of profit under the Crown. I am not asking you, Mr. Speaker, to rule on the matter now, but it has arisen in one or two cases. Roy Jenkins was appointed in similar circumstances and, as I recall, remained in the House for a period before the by-election which led to the filling of his seat. With great respect, since this is an innovation that we have not experienced in the long course of our parliamentary history, the Procedure Committee or the Committee of Privileges ought to give attention to whether appointments to the European Community--I am not talking about "Weekend World" or anything of that kind- -should be ranked alongside offices of profit under the Crown.
Mr. Speaker : Order. That is a matter which the right hon. Gentleman should send to the Procedure Committee, if he feels that that is the right course to take. Now I must deal with this writ. Question put and agreed to.
That Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county constituency of Epping Forest, in the room of Sir John Alec Biggs-Davison, Knight, deceased.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any approach from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about him coming to the House to make a statement about the adverse decision by the Court of Appeal in South Africa in the case of the Sharpeville Six? You will recall that the Prime Minister said in the House that if the legal process failed, new representations would be made by her. The Foreign Secretary also said that once the legal process had been concluded new approaches would be made.
I am authoritatively advised that following today's decision by the Court of Appeal all legal options have been exhausted in the case of the Sharpeville Six and that the matter now lies in the hands of the President of South Africa and nobody else. Clearly this is a matter of exceptional urgency, because the courts can no longer intervene and the sentences of death on these innocent people will take their course unless there is political intervention by the President of South Africa.
In view of that, would it be possible to obtain a statement from the Foreign Secretary because the view of the Opposition and, I hope, the view of all hon. Members is that the time has come for the Prime Minister to pick up the telephone and make a call to President Botha asking that these innocent people should not be hanged.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that when I intervened in the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday about a matter relating to the possible visit of the Queen to the Soviet Union, the Prime Minister said that it was hypothetical and that the matter was not discussed at all. On 6 July 1981, in answer to a question from her hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), the Prime Minister said :
"The basis of advice to the Royal Family is confidential. A visit should promote the interests of the United Kingdom, be welcome to the hosts, and in keeping with the duties and dignity of the Royal Family."--[ Official Report, 6 July 1981 ; Vol. 8, c. 8. ] We have read reports in the past few days in which Bernard Ingham has been giving information to members of the press, many of whom are in the Press Gallery today, explaining that the Prime Minister, in a manner of speaking, is giving advice through the Lobby system telling the Queen not to go to the Soviet Union.
We must know exactly who is telling the truth. Is it the Prime Minister or Bernard Ingham? He has admitted to briefing the press on this matter. Who does he work for? Does he work for himself or for the Prime Minister? Has he told the Prime Minister that he is talking about this on a non- confidential basis? Something is wrong in No. 10 Downing street.
Mr. Skinner : It is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, because over many years, and on 6 July 1981, we have been told that matters affecting the Royal Family are not to be dealt with in the House. You have many times prevented hon. Members from raising the issue, as have your predecessors. When we are continually told that the Prime Minister's Office says that the Queen, representing the House of Windsor, should not form a union with the House of Gorbachev, we are bound to come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister is behind it. Bernard Ingham has said that he has briefed the press. Who is telling the truth?
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. It is not a matter of order for me. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to apply in his chairmanship the same principles that I have to apply in mine. Come to the point of order and I shall deal with it.
Mr. Skinner : The point of order is simple. Perhaps some people are not bothered when the Prime Minister misleads the Opposition ; but she should not mislead the Speaker, and that is what is happening. This information is given to us. We know that it is not true. We can stand that- -we deal with it day by day. If the Speaker of the House is told that these matters are confidential but someone from No. 10 in a position of high authority briefs the press about them, that is misleading the Speaker.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a point that is highly relevant to the House. The ruling in 1981 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred categorically stated :
"The basis of advice to the Royal Family is confidential."--[ Official Report, 6 July 1981 ; Vol. 8, c. 8. ]
The ruling does not say that it is confidential in the House ; it says that it is confidential, and that applies in the House and out of it.
Under the rules of the constitution, any Minister is ministerially responsible to and answerable to the House of Commons for the antics and utterances of any of his or her officials. We have a clear admission from Mr. Ingham that he gave the briefing over the weekend that led to the outrageous headlines that have so embarrassed the Palace. I suggest that we need tomorrow a statement from the Prime Minister explaining how she reconciles her statement in 1981 with the conduct of her most trusted official over the weekened. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that if the Prime Minister has changed that ruling in so far as it applies to her officials, we will want to change the ruling in so far as it applies to the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker : I heard what was said about this matter yesterday. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who is now the shadow Leader of the House, may wish to raise it himself with the Prime Minister. What has been said has been heard by the Leader of the House and I am sure that he will have noted it.
Mr. Speaker : Order. If hon. Members wish to raise legitimate points of order, of course I shall hear them. However, there is a long list of hon. Members who wish to take part in today's debate, many of whom sat through
Column 118yesterday's debate and were not called. I have had some pretty distressed letters from them. I shall hear points of order if they are legitimate.
Mr. Winnick : My point of order is related to the point that you have just considered. You have often deprecated the way in which information is given to outsiders, and to the media, before it is given to the House. As you know, yesterday the Prime Minister denied that any decision had been made on whether the monarch was going to the Soviet Union.
You may have seen the Sunday newspapers, Sir. Every Sunday newspaper carried the same story. Undoubtedly there had been a briefing. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned Mr. Ingham. Whether by Mr. Ingham or by someone else, information has been given to the media before being given to the House. Every Sunday newspaper carried the report that the decision had been made that the Queen should not go to the Soviet Union, yet when the Prime Minister was asked about it yesterday she denied that the matter had been raised.
If the Queen is to learn, as a result of a press briefing and not as a result of information given to the House of Commons, that the Government have reached a decision, I suggest that the Prime Minister is being very discourteous to the monarch.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You asked to what extent this matter was your responsibility. I put it to you that you are responsible in so far as it is in your name that the right to use the facilities of the House is extended to those outside. If it can be proved, as happened yesterday, that the courtesy that you extended has been abused, surely it is a matter for you. You will know that the Prime Minister denied the need to make statements on these matters at the Dispatch Box whereas, but a few hours earlier, upstairs behind the wooden walls of the Chamber, her lackey made those very statements. Is that not an abuse of the courtesy that you extended?
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of Statistics relating to Overseas Trade of the United Kingdom for the year 1989 and for each month during 1989.-- [Mr. Newton.]
Mr. Secretary Ridley, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Hurd, Mr. Secretary Walker, Mr. John MacGregor, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. Secretary Parkinson, Mr. Anthony Newton and Mr. Michael Howard, presented a Bill to provide for the establishment and functions of a National Rivers Authority and of committees to advise that Authority ; to provide for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of water authorities to the National Rivers Authority and to companies nominated by the Secretary of State and for the dissolution of those authorities ; to provide for the appointment and functions of a Director General of Water Services and of customer service committees ; to provide for companies to be appointed to be water undertakers and sewerage undertakers and for the regulation of the appointed companies ; to make provision with respect to, and the finances of, the nominated companies, holding companies of the nominated companies and statutory water companies ; to amend the law relating to the supply of water and the law relating to the provision of sewers and the treatment and disposal of sewage ; to amend the law with respect to the pollution of water and the law with respect to its abstraction from inland waters and underground strata ; to make new provision in relation to flood defence and fisheries ; to transfer functions with
Column 120respect to navigation, conservancy and harbours to the National Rivers Authority ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 1.]
Mr. Secretary Parkinson, supported by Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Peter Morrison and Mr. Michael Spicer, presented a Bill to confer on holders of certain petroleum licences an exemption from royalties (including royalties in kind) in respect of petroleum from certain onshore and offshore fields and to confer power to amend the Continental Shelf (Designation of Additional Areas) Order 1974 to give effect to an Agreement made between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic of Ireland relating to their respective rights in relation to the continental shelf : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 6.]
Mr. Secretary Hurd, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mr. Secretary Younger, Mr. Secretary King, Mr. Secretary Rifkind and Mr. John Patten, presented a Bill to place the Security Service on a statutory basis ; to enable certain actions to be taken on the authority of warrants issued by the Secretary of State, with provision for the issue of such warrants to be kept under review by a Commissioner ; to establish a procedure for the investigation by a Tribunal or, in some cases, by the Commissioner of complaints about the Service ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 7.]
Debate on the Address
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22 November].
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Sir Giles Shaw.]
Question again proposed.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Today's debate takes place under a broad, indeed all-embracing, title devised by the Opposition : "Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity" in the United Kingdom--I am not sure how motherhood got left out. I wish to show briefly how the Government are taking action to protect individual freedom under the law and particularly to provide that climate, free from fear of crime, in which individual freedom, fair dealing and opportunity for all can flourish. It may be for the convenience of the House if I say something about the Security Service Bill which has been introduced in the House today. I am obliged to the Opposition for the opportunity to do this and to welcome the new faces in the shadow Home Office team.
The Security Service has loyally and courageously helped to defend this country since the early years of this century. It is, indeed, one of the bulwarks on which our continued freedom depends. Our intention in introducing the legislation is to ensure that the Security Service can continue to serve the country well. We need a Security Service which can help to protect us from those who want to undermine our institutions and threaten our lives, whether for their own purposes or on behalf of others.
Few people argue that this country should have no Security Service and most recognise that no Security Service can function effectively if its activities are subjected to intensive public discussion and debate, but in recent years there has been a degree of concern--and, indeed, some misunderstanding--about the arrangements under which the Security Service operates, and some concern that people who want to complain about Security Service actions against them have no real way to do so. The legislation that we propose will tackle those issues. We shall be asking Parliament to reaffirm the principles on which the Security Service is established and the basis on which it works. We shall be inviting Parliament to establish the extent of the Security Service's duties and obligations. We want Parliament to consider and confirm
Column 122the principles of ministerial responsibility and accountability for the Security Service, and we shall ask Parliament to agree to provide for complaints to be investigated without vital secrets being revealed.
The legislation will therefore give statutory authority for the continuation of the Security Service under the Secretary of State. It will establish in law the functions of the Security Service, within which it must operate. It will provide for the appointment of the Director-General of the Security Service and will make him personally responsible in law for ensuring the continued political neutrality of the service. The legislation that we propose will provide the Secretary of State with the power to authorise by a warrant those actions which are needed to obtain information from property only where he is satisfied that the information is likely to be of substantial value in assisting the service to discharge any of its functions and that it cannot reasonably be obtained by other means. A commissioner will be appointed to keep the warrant arrangements under independent review.
There will be a tribunal to receive and consider complaints, and the tribunal will refer warrant matters to the commissioner for adjudication. The tribunal will itself have specific powers of adjudication and redress, and be able to refer wider matters affecting the complainant to the commissioner. I hope that the House will notice the symmetry here. A year ago, by setting up the staff counsellor, we provided a remedy for the aggrieved or anxious member of the Security Service--a means by which he could, if need be, bypass his immediate superiors. Now we are providing a remedy for the aggrieved citizen outside the service who believes that the service may have done him or her some injury.
The commissioner will make an annual report to the Prime Minister on his work. That report, subject to identified security excisions, will be laid before Parliament.
The proposed legislation will, therefore, replace the published 1952 directive to the Director-General of the Security Service from the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. It has been the result of thorough consideration, taking full account of the experience of legislation in other countries and following on from the structure approved by Parliament in the Interception of Communications Act 1985.
The Security Service Bill follows the Interception of Communications Act model because it has been shown to work. That model recognised clearly the responsibilities of Ministers and the reasonable concerns of individuals. It found a way--and it has been shown to be a good way--of preserving direct ministerial responsibility while allowing for an independent examination of those concerns. Ministerial responsibility for those matters cannot be devolved or shared with others.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham. North) : The Secretary of State has referred to "Security Service" and also to "security services" Does the proposal apply only to the Security Service MI5 or does it encompass MI6 and military intelligence? Will there be other proposals for those?
Mr. Hurd : From time to time, right hon. and hon. Members have argued for a different approach. I am thinking especially of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), but others have rallied round him. Under that different approach, Parliament itself would set up some sort of machinery for direct supervision of the Security Service.
For reasons that I have given to the House in the past, I do not think that that makes good sense. Such a piece of parliamentary machinery would either demolish the barrier of secrecy, which is essential to the working of the service, or try to straddle it--with predictably painful results. If the body knew all, it would know that it could say little to the rest of Parliament without damaging results. If it knew little, it could say nothing with any conviction.
I concede that there has been a gap in our arrangements hitherto, but it has not lain in accountability to the House because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I are accountable. The gap has been the absence of any way in which someone aggrieved by an action of the service could have that grievance independently investigated. Our proposals, which I have outlined, fill that gap.
The Government will be ready and there will be ample opportunity to explain the case for the legislation we are introducing. However, the Government cannot--and I do not think anyone expects it--reveal details of particular Security Service operations or activities, and we will not do so.
The legislation will give Parliament an opportunity to provide a firm and explicit foundation for the continued work of the Security Service and for dealing with complaints. It will give members of the Security Service--as they want and deserve--a clear basis on which to operate, which has been approved by Parliament. It will give the country confidence that the Security Service operates under authority and scrutiny, but with the proper degree of confidentiality that its work requires for the protection of us all.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : God forbid that this country should ever find itself at war again. However, is not one of the duties with which the security services are charged that of keeping an up-to-date list of potential saboteurs and subversives? I hope that the proposals that my right hon. Friend is now outlining will not detract from the excellent work of the security forces in the defence of the realm, and that under war measures such people would be interned. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House and the nation that we shall continue to be vigilant in the defence of the realm?
Mr. Hurd : The three main duties of the Security Service, as will be laid down for the first time in legislation, are to deal with foreign espionage, to deal with terrorism--that has been an increasing duty--and to deal with subversion, as defined first by Lord Harris of Greenwich, in a definition later reaffirmed by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). Those duties will remain. In his peroration yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition tried to paint a portrait of this Government as increasingly repressive and tyrannical, particularly in this
Column 124sphere of security. I say "tried" to paint a portrait because what resulted was instead a crude caricature which simply does not fit the facts. I shall list some of those facts.
First, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been far more ready than any of her predecessors to report promptly to the House on security matters. I have counted at least nine oral statements of this sort over these years. No previous Prime Minister has been so forthcoming.
Secondly, if Parliament agrees, we are about to strip away the protection of the criminal law from the great mass of official information. The demolition of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act will mean that the criminal law will no longer be there to protect the bulk of Government information, however embarrassing that disclosure may be. Budget secrets--I do not think that the Opposition have hoisted this in yet--will no longer have that protection. Nor, to pluck stray examples, will a leaked paper from the Department of Social Security or a leaked letter from the Department of Education and Science. All these have been under section 2. For years, we have heard complaints about the burden of section 2, and now the criminal law will be out of those spheres altogether.