Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Rooker : My right hon. Friend's point about police manpower is crucial. The police in the west midlands have asked for 300 additional policemen. That request has been refused, but no Home Office Minister has taken any steps to remove from this country American citizens who have come here to encourage British citizens to adopt their private vigilante schemes. That will be the consequence of cutting the real need for additional police manpower. I warn the Home Secretary that that is happening in the Northumbrian police authority and that there have been direct attempts to encourage it in both London and Birmingham.

Mr. Hattersley : There are many ways in which the Home Secretary, who must take responsibility for these matters, is making the work of the police more difficult, against the background of fewer policemen. The idea that we should send squads of British policemen to Spain seems

Column 135

to me to be one of those gimmicks that is counter-productive, and the Home Secretary ought to be embarrassed just to hear that idea reiterated. It is another example of the difficulties that the Home Secretary will cause for force after force.

I now wish to turn to a further example--to wit, the Government's unworkable proposals to impose compulsory identity cards on the English Football League. Everybody who understands that issue agrees that the proposal will increase the prospect of riot and disorder outside football grounds. It is a scheme that could only have been introduced by Ministers who have never walked through a turnstile or stood on the terraces.

I repeat that it will cause chaos outside the grounds. Arsenal says that on a day when 50,000 spectators turn up at its ground, either they will have to start taking their places before 1 o'clock or the kick-off will have to be delayed by 90 minutes. The consequences of either of those alternatives can only be imagined ; so can the results of the central computer breaking down. If the Department of Defence's computer in America can break down, the Home Office's Football League computer can certainly do the same. As a result of tens of thousands of genuine, honest, law-abiding football supporters hanging about outside football grounds, the criminals--who are not football supporters but use football as the occasion for their violence --will rampage through the waiting crowds, terrorising local residents and attacking local shops.

During the last two years, football violence has been substantially reduced, thanks to improved surveillance and additional money having been spent on hiring police for inside the grounds. The sensible course would have been to allow that process to continue. It would have been the sensible course, but it would not have been spectacular, so progress is sacrificed to create the illusion of activity. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the so-called Minister for Sport--who would not have been worth mentioning had he not become a caricature of all that is wrong with this Government--was on television last Monday--I repeat that he would not have been worth mentioning had he not become a caricature of all that is wrong with this Government--after the announcement of the appointment of the new chairman of the Football League. He voiced the Government's disapproval of the choice that that free and independent body had made.

The idea that an Under-Secretary should have the effrontery to announce that an independent institution had made a choice of chairman of which the Government disapproved is something that even the Home Secretary ought to find surprising. It is for that reason that I described him--and I describe him so gladly for a third time--as a caricature of this Government's typical wish to interfere in everything and to insinuate all their own placemen into positions of authority.

We now know that the Prime Minister is attempting to insinuate Sir David English into the editorship of Independent Television News. Lord Rees-Mogg- -with no visible qualification, except an enthusiasm for " 'Allo, 'Allo" is the chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Nobody doubts that the head of the Independent Television Commission will be a card-carrying Conservative--probably a property dealer with the standards and values of Lord Young.

The identity card scheme illustrates two characteristics of the Government in general and of the Prime Minister in

particular--arrogant and mindless authoritarianism.

Column 136

Those qualities are demonstrated in the prohibition now placed on the broadcasting of interviews with Sinn Fein and the Ulster Defence Association and in the continuation of existing provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984.

I can tell the Home Secretary that we welcome and support the Government's intention to take powers that will enable them to seize funds intended to finance terrorist organisations. It is extraordinary that such powers have not been taken before. We shall facilitate their passage through the House as best we can. We shall do that because that specific provision is practical and calculated to incapacitate the terrorists.

The general powers in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, however, are more likely to help terrorists than to harm them. The right to detain Irish men and women without charge is rightly regarded as offensive by law-abiding Irish citizens. It inevitably encourages sympathy for the argument that, democracy and civil rights being denied, violence is the only path left open to republicans.

For guerrillas to succeed, they need a hinterland into which to escape after killing a policeman or bombing a bank. Sometimes that hinterland is a forest or a mountain ; sometimes it is a sympathetic population. The Government have foolishly increased sympathy towards terrorists and, by doing so, dangerously extended the hinterland into which the murderers and bombers can disappear. They have done so with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties.

I have emphasised, as I always do, the pragmatic objections to the prohibitions on broadcasting and to the prevention of terrorism provisions, because that is the argument which the Government are most likely to accept. The argument in principle--the argument of a free society--is just as overwhelming, but unfortunately it is not an argument which the Government even consider, and that is demonstrated by their recent record.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford) : The right hon. Gentleman speaks of freedom in society, but does he not concede that football hooligans and terrorists are those whom we have to prevent from acting if we are to have freedom in society? Are they not the people who are preventing freedom? Are they not the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman should turn his attention?

Mr. Hattersley : Of course. My complaint is that, instead of beating them, the Government want to get headlines about beating them. The Government want to appear to be active rather than genuinely to be active and to obtain the results which I understand the hon. Gentleman and I both want.

I should like for a moment to consider the Government's record on the great issue of civil liberty before I consider their proposals for the Security Service and the Official Secrets Act 1911. The pursuit of the wretched Peter Wright through court after court, even though the Government must have known that they would lose in the end, was a scandalous misuse of public money and came very near to an abuse of our legal system.

That abuse was performed for two wholly unworthy reasons--first, to postpone the day when the Prime Minister was proved wrong ; secondly, to prevent the British people from knowing what was certainly known in the Kremlin and freely available in every country in the world with bookshops. The Government's attitude

Column 137

towards the Official Secrets Act 1911 and towards security has to be measured against that record and their willingness--indeed, their enthusiasm--to suppress information for reasons which were not national necessities but political convenience.

The Home Secretary has today announced his intention to put the Security Service on a statutory basis. Being an old-fashioned sort of Conservative, the Home Secretary always meets pressure with small concessions rather than with obstinate refusal. This is a small concession in response to the massive concern which is increasingly felt about the uncontrolled--indeed, sometimes unlawful--operations of the Security Service. We welcome it and hope--hope subject to examination of the Bill--to support what the Home Secretary proposes. But it is important to keep the concession in perspective. The Security Service will remain totally outside the scrutiny of the House. From time to time we shall receive a report on its work which has been sanitised by the Prime Minister. As for questioning its conduct-- not its operation but its general conduct, its policy and its financing-- the House will have no powers at all. The Prime Minister was explicit about that yesterday when she said that she will be accountable, as she had always been accountable. We know exactly what that means.

The security services--like the security services of other democracies-- ought to be subject to the authority of the House because that would increase efficiency and provide a safeguard against abuse. It is the fantasy quality of their existence that so often has made our security services ridiculous, tapping the telephones of innocent trade unionists while Soviet agents are promoted within their own ranks. Parliamentary control would help to bring the security services into the real world, where they would operate with more despatch and efficiency and with more respect for civil liberties. I hope that we can support the Home Secretary in the little concession that he has made. In preparation for that, I ask him two questions. The Secretary of State has told us that he will have to issue a warrant to authorise action to "obtain information from property". Does that mean that another raid on the BBC in Scotland would have to be authorised explicitly by him, and would he have to accept responsibility for it? He told us that a tribunal will examine complaints against the service from the general public. When a complainant has had his cause examined, will he be able to pursue the result of that complaint through the courts, particularly if he is not satisfied that the tribunal, an essentially internal organisation, has treated him justly?

I hope that the Home Secretary will answer those questions when he replies to the debate, but in the meantime will he remember that--whatever he may have hoped--providing a limited amount of statutory form for the security services does not make an unacceptable secrets Bill any more acceptable than it was before his announcement?

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that to put the security services under the control of the Home Secretary might seem a great advance, and to some extent it might be an advance, but does it not smell of the "Minister of the Interior" in certain eastern European countries? Who would trust that lot? I do not trust them at all. Quite honestly, I am more worried

Column 138

about that than about anything else. If it were placed under the House of Commons, and we had the decision and we controlled it, it would be different. I do not want to put the security services under any particular Government. That already exists privately. Is my right hon. Friend not worried about that?

Mr. Hattersley : Risking the wrath of my hon. Friend, I must say that I find the Home Secretary an unlikely commissar--a rural dean perhaps, but not a commissar. However, I agree that the real place for the authority to reside is in the House of Commons, as it does in the legislatures of the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries where there is more liberty and accountability on these matters and more efficient security services. The idea that our Security Service--which, putting it at its gentlest, has not always been regarded with universal respect during the past 10 years--could be made less efficient by making it accountable is clearly nonsense. Finally, I turn to the proposed new Official Secrets Act, which I understand from what the Home Secretary has said today will come before us virtually in the form described in the White Paper. That means that, far from liberalising our legislation, the new Bill will provide the Government with greater powers to withhold and conceal information which might be politically embarrassing to them. In many particulars, the new Act will be more authoritarian than the old. The veneer has been replaced, but underneath the wood is still rotten. There is no substitute for an Act which safeguards only genuine secrets, allows, ultimately, an authority outside the Government to decide what are genuine secrets, and is augmented by freedom of information legislation.

Paragraphs 41 and 42 of the White Paper make the position absolutely clear. Everything that the Government define as "relating to security" must be kept secret at all times. What does or does not "relate to security" is for the Government to decide. Whoever is involved or associated with security must remain silent about all they do. The definition of "involved" and "associated" is for the Government to decide. In no area which the Government define as concerning security will it be possible for a court of law to decide whether or not the publication of an item of information would damage the national interest. Anyone responsible for such a publication would automatically be guilty of a criminal offence.

The proposals legitimise all the Government's recent excesses, with one exception. "Spycatcher" would still be suppressed ; Anthony Cavendish would still be prevented from privately printing his reminiscences ; Sarah Tisdale would still go to prison, and so would Cathy Massiter. There is only one notable change. Clive Ponting, who was acquitted under the old law, would have been convicted under the new law because it does not allow a public interest defence. The great difference, which I hope the Home Secretary will struggle to understand, is that, while in the past the public interest defence has been there by implication, it is now to be ruled out specifically and explicitly by statute. In a free society, it ought to be possible for a civil servant to say, "What the Government are doing is wrong and what the Minister is saying is not true, and it is my moral duty to expose the Government's corruption by telling the truth." We all take a strange vicarious pride in the story of the marine colonel who said to President Nixon, "I took my

Column 139

oath of allegiance not to the President of the United States but to the constitution of this country." The defence, "I did it because it was right," is wholly removed from the law if the Bill proposed by the Home Secretary passes into our legislation. When the new Act has been passed, invoking a public interest defence, saying, "I did it because it was true and I said it because it was right," will be a confession of guilt.

Nor will it be possible to argue under the new law that, since the information being revealed had already been revealed, to repeat it can in no way prejudice the national interest. The book may have been published in Australia, the story may have been told in Moscow and the film rights may have been sold in America, but if the Home Secretary classifies the information as involving security, anyone who repeats it will be committing a criminal offence.

All we need to know about the new powers is that criminalising the disclosure of information sent in confidence from one Government to another has been inserted in the Bill to ingratiate the Government with the American Administration, when it is a proposal which the Senate of the United States would not contemplate passing into law. Indeed, the proposals would be unlawful under the American constitution, yet the Government continue glibly to talk about freedom.

No Government this century have been more contemptuous of true democracy. No Government this century have been more determined to suppress criticism and more unscrupulous in manipulating the news. The Government are motivated above all else by the Prime Minister's authoritarian impulse, and that instinct is wholly alien to our system and to our country.

4.8 pm

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : I have to confess that I did not attend the Loyal Address yesterday because I was returning from the north- east of England where on Monday night I attended the awards of Business Enterprise, an organisation run by Tyne-Tees Television, The Journal newspaper and the Northern Development Corporation showing how well things are today in the north-east of England, how they are improving, how industry is flourishing and how job prospects have not been better for many years because at long last people have stopped trying to cling to the past and are looking to the future. The future of the north-east in Conservative hands has now been recognised as the way forward, as is the case in the south-east of England, the south of England, London and East Anglia, and prosperity is moving into the north-east of England. That was identified at the meeting on Monday evening when the awards were presented for the first time. This is the first time that such an opportunity has been presented in the north-east. We have been assured that the scheme will continue and that every year these five awards will be made to the five categories of companies that won them on Monday. The awards are for innovation and training and are given to large and small enterprises. Those north-eastern based firms have used the skills of the generations there. They are cultivating those skills and looking forward to the opportunities that will arise.

The north-east has turned the corner, but the Government should recognise that we now need a straight road. On Monday night there was some heavy snow when

Column 140

I was in the area and that made driving conditions difficult. However, they are difficult with or without snow, because of the lack of a major motorway from the south to the north-east. It is time that the Government woke up to that.

As a result of the shortage of equipment at King's Cross, 31 people died and the Government suddenly found £266 million to do something about it. Many more people have been killed on the A1 and M1 motorway. In the last eight years, 150 people have been killed on that road and the number of serious and slight accidents far outweighs anything that happened at King's Cross. Of course all those deaths and accidents did not happen in one dramatic night and receive great media attention. It is a constant drip, week in and week out, and people are killed and maimed because of the lack of a motorway. Government statistics clearly show that a motorway is statistically five times safer than a dual carriageway. In the last eight years, 33 people have been killed on the motorway and 117 have been killed on the main road which is not of motorway standard. How many people have to be killed before the money is found to improve the safety on the road to the north-east of England? If the roads are improved, the north-east will be opened up and the industries and companies that I mentioned will have the opportunity to use the Channel tunnel when it is opened.

The north-east does not feature specifically in the Queen's Speech in terms of the economy, but it features in connection with child sex abuse. I and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) have been asking for a debate on that subject for some time, and the Second Reading of the Bill on the care and protection of children will give us the opportunity for such a debate. In the meantime, it is worth putting on record the fact that there was never a child sex abuse crisis in Cleveland : there was an abuse of privilege by doctors. The statistics in Cleveland show that the number of reportable cases of child sex abuse up to the time when the two doctors had their brainstorm and the number of cases since the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and I raised the matter in the House, which led to the Butler -Sloss inquiry, are exactly the same.

There was an interregnum during which doctors misdiagnosed children and had them taken from their parents. That created an atmosphere of fear in Cleveland which remains to this day--primarily because of the spinelessness of Cleveland county council which refused to take action against the director of social services and his principal consultant on child abuse. It is also due to the seemingly endless reluctance of the area and regional health authorities to take positive action to ensure that those two hideous doctors are never again allowed to examine children or to have then removed --stolen, kidnapped--from their parents and taken to places about which the parents did not know. What is more, the parents could not find out where their children were.

Many innocent families have been ruined as a result of the actions of the four guilty people that I mentioned. They were backed by Cleveland county council, which was afraid of the shop steward of the National and Local Government Officers Association, who told the Council not to take disciplinary action. That was after the council's all-party committee had issued a report saying that the council must take disciplinary action. The chairman of the committee sat mute, saying nothing when the opportunity arose for Cleveland county council to take such action.

Column 141

We still have to live that down in the north -east. It will take some time and there will be no improvement until we have removed those people in Cleveland county council who were responsible for the perpetuation of the situation. If the Labour party will not do that between now and next May, we shall do it after May when we come to power in Cleveland.

I should like to turn to another matter that does not relate specifically to the north-east, except that, as everyone knows, the north-east is the best place in the world for soccer. I should like to draw attention to the Government's likely proposals on identity cards. Today I tried to find out about those proposals. I sought a White Paper or any information so that Members who wanted to speak could do so with a little knowledge on the subject. However, we do not have that information, and I want to put one or two questions to my hon. Friend. I have an open mind on the subject and will need to be persuaded before I support the Government.

Who will have the identity cards? How will we determine at what age a person becomes a hooligan? Will women have identity cards? Are they also potential hooligans, brick throwers and muggers of old ladies? Are we to say that only a narrow group of people, the head bangers, need to be issued with identity cards? How do we identify head bangers? That might seem easy, but there are always borderline cases and I wonder what practical methods the Government have in mind. I freely admit that on Saturday, for the first time for a couple of years, I went to a soccer match because Guisborough Town, in my constituency, was playing in the first round proper of the FA cup. The team was cheated by biased refereeing. The referee should have been hounded out of the ground and should not be given an identity card.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : Name him.

Mr. Holt : I do not wish to do that.

I talked with the men who run Guisborough Town football club after the game when they were having a drink and expressed my commiserations. They do not know what would have happened if they had beaten Bury and gone on to the next round. What would have happened with membership cards?

Mr. Hattersley : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Holt : The right hon. Gentleman would not give way to me, so I shall not give way to him.

The proposed changes may or may not lead to that club incurring expenses.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Holt : I certainly will.

Mr. Foulkes : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman at any opportunity. He has highlighted a number of examples showing how unworkable the Government's proposed scheme is. Has he contemplated the difficulty that will arise when Scots football fans want to go to England--

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : What about Berwick?

Column 142

Mr. Foulkes : Yes, or fans from Berwick, which is in the Scottish league but is in England. What will happen to Scots fans or English football fans from Berwick who want to go to the international match at Wembley, where we understand fans will be obliged to register as supporters of English football clubs before being entitled to get membership cards? Is that not yet another example of how unworkable and ridiculous the scheme is? I speak as a supporter of the Heart of Midlothian football team, which is the only British team still in any European competition. I know that the whole House would wish the team every success in the game against Velez Mostar at Tynecastle this evening.

Mr. Holt : I wish the Heart of Midlothian team every success. I follow the results in the newspapers, but I do not want the hon. Gentleman to lead me into the minefield of Scottish and English legislation on this subject. It will be bad enough trying to impose this scheme on the English soccer leagues without trying to impose it on the Scottish leagues.

I am worried about the wording that has been used. We talk about "soccer hooligans". Hooliganism is not confined to soccer. I have recently been to cricket matches where all has not been too kosher. I have been to rugby league and rugby union matches at which one or two people have been slightly offensive. I have even been to race courses and seen the odd person drunk at a race meeting--[ Hon. Members : --"Oh".] I must, of course, declare my interest. The Jockey Club has recognised the problem. Last week it introduced regulations so that what has been happening at football matches will not happen at race meetings.

How long will it be before a Government--not necessarily the present Government, because time will move on--say, "We shall introduce identity cards, not merely for soccer but for cricket, rugby union, rugby league, hockey, ice hockey, speedway meetings, or tiddlywinks."? How far will we go? Will there be one large piece of plastic endorsed with all the sports, or will we have to produce 47 in a concertina?

Mr. John Patten : I have listened to my hon. Friend with great fascination and I hesitated to interrupt. Does he agree that we might not be in this position if the football authorities a good many years ago, when they saw the onset of violence on the terraces, had taken the same speedy action that the Jockey Club is taking to ensure that race course violence does not spread?

Mr. Holt : My hon. Friend has a point, but it is not necessarily the overriding point. The Government have at their disposal other weapons that they could have used against football clubs that refused to accept a code of practice. Luton football club--of which my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) is a

supporter--introduced the scheme voluntarily and it works well. Why could not the Government have used persuasion? What failure of communication by the Government or persuasion would have reduced the need to bring in identity cards? As I said, I need to be persuaded. Will I need to carry a large piece of plastic endorsed with all the sports?

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of identity cards, will he confirm that, given that Guisborough was playing Bury at

Column 143

Ayresome Park and the venue had been fixed a week before, under the Government's system of identity cards the hon. Gentleman and 6,000 others could not have gone to the match?

Mr. Holt : That worries me.

I am equally worried about another matter. I have a friend who works in New York and has been there for about 18 months. He is coming home for Christmas. I was talking with his wife and suggested that we see a soccer match. I freely confess that I do not often go to soccer matches, but my friend is a fan and when he returns to this country he will want to watch a soccer match. He may not necessarily want to go on his own. Perhaps he would like to take me with him, and we would go together. We would sit and chew the cud. Instead of doing that, we shall be prevented from going to the match and perhaps will have to spend all day in a pub instead of in the fresh air. That is where we will be driven by the Government's proposed scheme. What happens to the so-called fan who loses his identity card? What is the Government's provision? Do they say, "You have been a naughty boy at Arsenal, so we are taking your Arsenal fan's card away, but there is nothing to prevent you from going to Millwall next week and signing up there."? With the 92 clubs in the League, it would not be unreasonable to presume that, during the period when hooligans want to go around throwing bricks through windows, they could get into every club.

What sounds good in practice--like prohibition in America--will not necessarily work out, unless someone has thought through all the details and problems. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when recently asked on television how he would fund radio in the future, said, "We have not thought of that yet." The authorities did not know how to fund radio when the proliferation of stations began a few years ago.

Talking of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me that I wanted to intervene when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was speaking about education. I wanted to give him the opportunity to say whether he agreed or disagreed with the remarks on Monday this week on BBC Radio Cleveland by the Front-Bench spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Durham North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who said that it was now part of the Labour party's thinking to introduce a tax on graduates. After graduating, people will have a different tax system from that applying to anyone else. In that way, graduates will pay back more.

If a Front-Bench spokesman says that publicly on BBC radio, clearly there has been some thinking along those lines and that statement must have some credibility. I shall give way to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook if he wishes.

Mr. Hattersley : No.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) rose--

Mr. Holt : Then I give way to the hon. Lady.

Ms. Mowlam : I thought that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that a woman from Durham, North-West and one from Redcar were in some way interchangeable when he looked across for someone to whom to give way. If the hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), he would have heard her say that the Labour party was

Column 144

thinking, as it is in its policy review, of many different ideas. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would use his verbs and adjectives a little more carefully.

Mr. Holt : I am grateful to the hon. Lady because she has confirmed that the Labour party is thinking of this approach. Is not the example of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was thinking of things when he spoke to the press, similar to that of an official Front- Bench spokesman of the Labour party speaking publicly on BBC radio? That point is worthy of a reply at some time, and I shall willingly give way to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to give it.

Mr. Hattersley : The hon. Gentleman has been at great pains to tell us all that he knows about betting and racing. If he wants to have a little gamble with me on whether, when the thought is over, it is included in our policy, I shall gladly take him for a quid or two.

Mr. Holt : I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has been listening. I never mentioned betting. I mentioned horse racing, but I will willingly take a bet from him at the appropriate time. I am pleased to have had this opportunity to speak in this debate. Before you, Mr. Speaker, do as the silly referee did on Saturday by giving a red card to the captain of Guisborough halfway through the first half so that 10 amateurs then had to play against 11 professionals and did not concede another goal, I will resume my seat--but I suggest that the Government should watch out, as I have given them an orange card in relation to my vote.

4.29 pm

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : The Queen's speech contains one measure that virtually the whole House will support--the intention to bring in a Bill to rationalise the law governing the care and protection of children. As one who introduced the Children Act 1975, I believe that it is time to bring important areas of children's legislation up to date and to learn from experience. I hope that the legislation will also provide an opportunity to introduce family courts. In my view, it would be a tragic omission if that opportunity were not taken.

Another advantage of the debate on the Queen's Speech is that it gives the country and the House an opportunity to clarify attitudes to privatisation- -an issue on which there has been far too much dogma and ideology. The two privatisation issues in the Queen's Speech reflect both the advantages of privatisation in creating real competition, as I believe will be the case in electricity generation, and the grave disadvantages of privatisation when a public monopoly simply becomes a private monopoly, as will be the case with water privatisation.

With regard to electricity generation costs, if we can at long last break through the wall of silence and duplicity that has been characteristic of the Central Electricity Generating Board--one of the worst public monopolies with which I have had to deal--we may then discover the true cost of nuclear power generation, including the storage of waste and the decommissioning of power stations, and be able to make far more sensible decisions about future generating stations. It might also encourage people to put up projects for water barrages and other forms of electricity generation, which many of us believe to have far greater potential than has been recognised so far.

Column 145

I believe that water privatisation, far from giving any encouragement to the environment, is likely to be a sorry story, with the principle that the "polluter pays" being put into reverse and the principle that the "consumer pays" being endorsed. Even more worrying is the prospect of vast tracts of this country, areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks currently under the control of the water authorities, being opened up to speculative building and edging away in a fashion which I believe will cause considerable anxiety on both sides of the House.

When the land implications become apparent--let alone the implications of French water companies purchasing our water authorities--with vast parts of the Peak District, the Lake district, Dartmoor and Exmoor being opened up to private profit and speculation, I believe that many Conservative Members will have to rethink their position on water privatisation. It is wrong in principle, it will be damaging in effect, and it is a form of privatisation that we shall oppose.

We shall, however, support electricity privatisation, just as we supported steel privatisation, in the belief that it will introduce competition in the domestic electricity market just as steel privatisation introduced competition in the international market. The main subject of today's debate is freedom and I shall focus the main part of my speech on that. We have had a great deal of rhetoric and a great many speeches and articles about the grave threat to our freedom and democracy posed by the Government. Certainly they have been extremely careless on a number of important issues involving freedoms. Their handling of GCHQ gave offence to millions of people because underlying it was the unstated belief that the mere fact of being a member of a trade union meant that one could not be trusted with the nation's secrets.

That first abuse of freedom by the Government has been followed by many others in other areas. For instance, the decision to sink the Belgrano was a perfectly justified military decision but the refusal to give the full facts allowed people to believe that there was something far more sinister behind that purely naval decision. We began to see a paranoid attitude to the revelation of information necessary to clarify the public position. The same was true of the Westland affair. That was far more a case of the Prime Minister trying to save face, but there were alarming aspects such as the way in which confidential advice from the Attorney-General was able to be used in a manipulative fashion.

Other features have included the police raid on BBC Scotland. The way in which that broadcasting issue was handled cannot be a matter of pride to any Member of the House. The Government's record is not a great one and they made us the laughing stock of the world by pursuing the "Spycatcher" case through every twist and turn. As people began to realise that the purpose was largely to cover up lapses and incompetence in the original pursuit of Mr. Wright, many of us began to be deeply worried about the Government's overall intentions.

In my view, one of the dangers is that the suspicions and anxieties aroused by those specific instances have led to a generalised attack on measures undertaken by the Government in relation to terrorism. Personally, I find that rather distressing. Hitherto, it has been a tradition of

Column 146

the House that in matters which really affect the security of the state, especially in dealing with terrorism, wherever possible party politics is set aside, we try to achieve a consensus and if there is any doubt the benefit of that doubt is given to the Government. That tradition, which I regard as a good tradition, seems to have been thrown away in recent months. I wish to show that the House is in danger of losing something rather important in this respect. In all these matters, we must take account of what we are doing in Northern Ireland. It is no use thinking that Northern Ireland is somehow separate. In my judgment, the situation in Northern Ireland is gravely deteriorating. There are signs of a loss of confidence in the system of justice, a considerable deterioration in the security situation and some quite horrendous acts of violence.

When we discuss freedom, we must remember that, with the exception of a few countries, and certainly in terms of the democratic industrialised nations, Britain is dealing with the worst internal terrorist situation of any country--far worse than the one that the Spanish are dealing with in the Basque country. To grapple effectively with terrorism means restraining civil liberties and restricting freedom. Only a fool could believe otherwise. That being so, we must examine with extreme care every step that we take, and every step that the Government ask us to endorse, they too should examine with extreme care.

We owe a loyalty to the state, but what is the state? It is certainly not the Government. We do not owe a loyalty to the Government, but we owe a loyalty to the monarch, to Parliament, to the armed services, to the judiciary and even to Ministries. That is the loyalty that we owe, both as individual citizens and as Members of Parliament.

However, it goes wider than that. The BBC also owes a loyalty to the state. It should bear that in mind when considering its role and that of its reporters in dealing with the issue of terrorism. At one point during the Falklands war, an internal memorandum was sent out by the then head of BBC radio news--to my great anxiety, he is now the controller of editorial policy--stating :

"When we say our troops, our ships, we sound to people as if we were the mouthpiece of government. We are not Britain. We are the BBC."

The BBC is Britain, and it had better start representing the views and feelings of the British people. It does not always have to follow the majority view, but when it is considerably out of kilter with public opinion it should hesitate.

Of course, the BBC is not the managing director or the paid officials ; its ultimate safeguard is the board of governors. It must have been with great regret that the Government felt it necessary to issue a notice telling the BBC what they wished it to do on actuality reporting. I certainly regret that, and the BBC's governors should regret it. They should ask themselves why it was necessary for the Government to introduce new measures. Why could they not listen not just to the voice of the Government but to the voice of common sense throughout the country?

When the BBC described the so-called gag on broadcasting, it took a long time for many to realise that it was in fact describing a gag that has been operating since 1976 in the Republic. When has the BBC exposed that as a monstrous abuse of civil liberty? Why did it not realise

Column 147

the difficulty inherent in allowing people who could not make such statements in the Republic to do so through ITN, the BBC and other broadcasting media?

The commentators were right to say that we should not consider the reduction in the freedom of the airways or television screens purely and simply in a Northern Ireland context. It restricts our freedom on the mainland to learn of the horrendous statements made by Sinn Fein. Indeed, there have been occasions when it has been salutary to hear them in all their horror. However, we must consider the balance between freedom and security.

If it appears to work in the Republic, is it not at least worth a try in the deteriorating state of Northern Ireland? As it was introduced by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and by a Minister with the liberal credentials of Connor Cruise O'Brien, we should not immediately leap to describe it as some great Fascist clampdown and use such language as must have given great succour to the governments in Chile and South Africa. To have our Government's actions likened to the great abuses of human and civil rights in those countries is to cheapen debate and to damage this country.

I hope that we can stop the argument about the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The country needs such an Act and it should be supported by all parties. It is sad that the Labour party and the Social and Liberal Democrats will not support such an Act being permanently placed on the statute book. They should remember that the Act was introduced only after a bomb was placed in a Birmingham pub. Many people in Northern Ireland do not believe that we would ever have acted had it not been for that act of monstrous violence on the mainland. It is important that we ask ourselves whether we are prepared to argue the case only in the context of what is happening in Northern Ireland. We should remember that what is happening over there could well return to the mainland on a major scale. Of course, the Act does not deal only with Northern Ireland. The level of international terrorism has increased substantially since Roy Jenkins, the then Home Secretary, introduced it. It was intended as a temporary measure, but "temporary" has gone on and on. We all look forward to the day when the Act can be permanently repealed, but anyone who thinks that it can be done immediately is living in a world remote from reality. International terrorism will be on our doorstep for a long time to come and, sadly, few can envisage an immediate solution to the Northern Ireland problem.

I read with shock and amazement that the Labour party does not even want to support any change in the remission of sentences--yet 20 to 25 per cent. of those convicted of serious terrorist-related crimes in Northern Ireland in 1984 committed another terrorist offence within two years. All that is proposed is to bring the remission practice for serious crime in Northern Ireland into line with that on the mainland. How can anyone seriously suggest that we should not do that? Most people think it outrageous that Northern Ireland terrorists have had preferential treatment.

I urge the BBC to have some sense of proportion when dealing with the question of terrorism. I also urge a sense of proportion in the way in which we discuss these matters in the House. There should be a return to the principle that, wherever possible, the House supports the Government of the day on such measures--and that, if there is doubt, the Government should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Next Section

  Home Page