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Column 148As to other measures which are to be introduced, I do not have a great belief in the declaration of democracy, but I realise how deeply offensive it is for people in local government to hear someone in a local council chamber justifying a terrorist attack that may have involved a council employee. The Government have made a mistake in not allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring the prosecution, but instead to leave it to the poor individual or group of individuals to club together to take action. However, all the measures are worth a try because of the deteriorating position in Northern Ireland.
As I have said before, we are not doing anything near enough about the problem on the border. Three years on from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Republic's army cannot even speak to the British Army--they have to go through the Garda and then the RUC. Can that really be serious cross-border collaboration? Can that be a really serious advance of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in dealing with security? Two armed services who are meant to be patrolling the border cannot even speak to each other.
If the Republic cannot deliver more on cross-border security, the British Government should be prepared to reconsider other measures. It is said that the border cannot be sealed--tell that to Israel or any other country that has had to deal with terrorism. It is not simply just preventing sophisticated weaponry coming across the border ; there is the problem of people simply slipping away, across the border, to take a holiday. They should be put under constant psychological pressure and strain, week by week, month by month and year by year.
I do not wish to speak only about terrorism. We cannot make advances in Northern Ireland's security by security measures alone. There are political problems. There should be a greater devolution of government to Northern Ireland. We cannot continue with our procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland legislation in this House, and I beg the parties in Northern Ireland to discuss devolution. It is a difficult position for the Unionists, given their opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They were right, and many of us were wrong, when they predicted that the majority of decent, sensible people in Northern Ireland would not live with the agreement. I had grave doubts at the time. Many people who are not in the slightest degree political believe that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is a step towards accepting a gradual erosion of the presence of the Northern Irish within the United Kingdom, and they do not like that. Therefore, it is hard to ask political parties to come together in any way that is related to that Agreement to discuss a political solution.
A good solution has been suggested, and I recommend it to the House. It is that an independent chairman should be appointed to chair a meeting of all the political parties so that they can discuss devolution. I say that with no disrespect to the Secretary of State, who I believe does a good job and has a great deal of respect and admiration in the House, but he is a party to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and is a part of the British Government. His chairmanship and his role will not bring together the parties who will have to come up with the devolution package that is desperately needed. I have talked about duty to the state. It is not a duty to agree with everything that the Government do but a duty to try to look at the overall security of the state. So we come to the new Bill on the Security Service. I have compared this Bill to the Maxwell Fyfe directive under
Column 149which successive Governments have lived, and the language of the Bill has none of the rigour and the safeguards in the governance of the Security Service that
I should like to see. This may be a problem of parliamentary drafting, but one has only to compare the language. For example, the Maxwell Fyfe directive says :
"It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community, or with any other matter than the Defence of the Realm as a whole."
The Bill says that it is necessary
"that the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party."
What a massive difference.
Let us take another example. The Maxwell Fyfe directive says : "No enquiry is to be carried out on behalf of any Government Department unless you are satisfied that an important public interest bearing on the Defence of the Realm, as defined in paragraph 2, is at stake."
That is clear, decisive, fine language. The Bill says that it is necessary
"that there are arrangements for securing that no information is obtained by the Service except so far as necessary for the proper discharge of its functions or disclosed by it except so far as necessary for that purpose".
I should like the Maxwell Fyfe directive to be taken word for word and put in the Bill. It is fine language that successive Governments and Home Secretaries--
Dr. Owen : The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that the Security Service has also done a lot that is praiseworthy. It has been an honourable service and many people have been safeguarded by it. It has had some bad elements within it and that rightly causes the right hon. Gentleman concern, as it causes concern to many hon. Members on both sides of the House.
That leads naturally to the next question. This legislation is to be welcomed, but where is parliamentary scrutiny? Every other Bill that becomes an Act has a form of parliamentary scrutiny. Where is it in this Bill? In the past, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister relied on not having to answer questions about the Security Service. There is also the intelligence that we gather from overseas. Some would argue that that should have the same treatment. I do not believe that to be the case. I did not believe it when I was in government, and I do not intend to start believing it now. However, I believe now, as I believed then, that there is a strong case for the activities of those Ministers involved in the security and intelligence services within this country and outside the country being subjected to some measure of scrutiny.
The Security Commission already exists, but it is outside the parliamentary sphere. One could almost marry the Security Commission and Parliament. It would not be hard if the commitment were there. This comes to a question of the Prime Minister's attitude. When the
Column 150Falklands war started, many of us argued that the best way to put behind us what had happened in the past was to agree to set up a committee of inquiry after the war was over. The Prime Minister did not like it. It was like dragging teeth out of her to get her to agree to the Franks inquiry. She eventually agreed, and it had the effect of unifying the House.
There were no arguments, throughout the Falklands war, about "what might have been" and no attempt to go over what might have been done. The matter was left on one side until the Franks committee report. I did not agree with its recommendations, but it carried an authority, it had representatives from the House on it and it was a fundamental and important, although after-the-event, examination of what had happened.
That report established a precedent that we should follow now, but the Prime Minister still does not agree with us. However, why can she not occasionally do something with which she does not agree, because she can see that it has a wider merit? By doing that, she would make it much easier for many hon. Members who have good will towards the security and intelligence services, who wish them well and believe them to be necessary, and who know that they must be kept secret. Many are horrified over the last eight or nine years of the Prime Minister's tenure to see that more important secrets have gone out into the public domain than at any other time.
I have watched this happen from GCHQ onwards. I have seen that, every time we have had a controversy about the security and intelligence services, in the last nine years, more important and damaging information about the security of the realm has leaked or been divulged--matters that we had thought were so serious that we would have gone to court about, and did go to court about, are now commonplace and known by millions. The present system has not worked, and it would be better to vest responsibility out of the House. The Home Secretary talked about the barrier of secrecy and said that if a parliamentary committee came within the barrier of secrecy, it would not be able to report on these matters to the rest of Parliament. Everybody accepts that. The whole purpose of setting up a parliamentary Select Committee to deal with this matter is that its members would be within the barrier of secrecy and would not be able to tell us about it. We understand that. We vest responsibility in them. The difference is that it is not part of the Government, but part of parliamentary scrutiny. There is an inability to understand the distinction in this case.
Such a committee would concentrate the mind of the Home Secretary. He would have to go to discuss such matters with his fellow parliamentarians. There is nothing wrong with that system. It works extremely well in the United States, both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. I urge the Prime Minister to think that it might be possible that she gets it wrong from time to time. Even if she is always right, she should allow us lesser mortals, who are wrong, occasionally to have some morsels from the table-- some relief so that we can then have a little more trust in the Government. She should realise that we wish her well, but we are fed up with the feeling that only she has a monopoly of wisdom. She is not the only person to have held these secrets. She is not the only person to have had this difficulty of striking a balance between freedom and security. For goodness' sake, she should occasionally listen to some others.
Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth) : Is there not a middle way, which would be to strengthen the Security Commission by the addition of some senior Privy Councillors from all parts of the House, so that that body might then carry through, substantially, the function that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind?
Dr. Owen : I have already implied that I would accept such a solution. It is not such a good solution, but already a number of those who make up the Security Commission are in the other place. Many of them could be members of it, but if the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make it extra- parliamentary, that would be one way. It would go at least some way to restoring the confidence of the House about the way in which it deals with such problems. It would also seem necessary to widen the remit of the Security Commission, because its remit means that it is brought in when the Government refer something to it. It does not have a continuing monitoring role, nor is it given overall charge of scrutiny.
The other aspects of the Bill all appear fairly sensible, but they are fairly small potatoes. It will be an advantage for people to be able to appeal against warrants if they believe, for example, that they have had their house burgled. The Bill will focus the Secretary of State's mind on the issue, so it is a modest step forward. I end as I began. When we discuss this question of freedom, we must ask : what is our duty to the state? What is our duty to those people who, in one part of the United Kingdom, suffer daily from the fear of assassination? I thought it was appalling when a man who had simply provided electricity supplies to a police station was singled out to be killed. The IRA then told people that it was a warning for everyone else who was in any way associated with the police, such as builders.
However, it is outrageous that it is possible to say and do such things. The reason why the rule of silence has had to be slightly modified-- although most people in the country believe it has been abandoned--is that it has become a terrorist technique never to give any form of statement. It has become incredibly difficult to bring people to justice. There is now a common belief among the Army and the police in Northern Ireland that there is hardly any point in apprehending people, as they will get away with it again. If these restrictions are being introduced--and they should be done- -is it not possible for the Prime Minister to listen to a few other people? Why not have three judges for the Diplock courts? It would do a great deal of good to strengthen the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It does not simply involve the people of the Republic. Many people in the House understand why trials have to be suspended and why many extra powers have to be taken, but believe it would be much more credible if the judgment were made by more than one judge. If the case goes to appeal, it goes to three judges. That is much more sensible. Perhaps later we could have mixed courts on both sides of the border when dealing with terrorist cases. If we are to encourage people to give us intelligence information freely and to
Column 152co-operate completely, they must also have confidence in the judicial system on both sides of the border and in both minority and majority communities.
The Government have been careless about some basic freedoms. They have one last opportunity to restore confidence when the reform of the Official Secrets Act comes before the House. They should have listened to all those who have urged that there should be a public interest defence. The White Paper was phrased in such a way that no final decision was taken. It will be the yardstick upon which people will judge not just that Bill, but whether the Government are sensitive to the widely felt anxiety that they are trampling on basic freedoms.
Some of us who have not made historic judgments about the Government's record on freedom will nevertheless feel bruised and angry if that Bill comes before the House with no right to a public interest defence. I suggest that the Prime Minister reads Lord Griffiths' report in The Observer v. Others. It would be hard to find anyone more passionately committed to the Government's case for a complete silence in respect of anyone who has been employed in the security and intelligence services. I agree with most of what he says, in contrast with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Even that judge ends by stating that there is a strong case for a public interest defence. Let that be the litmus test by which the Government's respect for freedom will be judged. 5.3 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made a thoughtful speech and I shall try to follow some of his interesting arguments about where the vital line should be drawn between freedom and security in our country today. I infinitely prefer his approach to some of the sloganising of megaphone opposition that we hear, when everything that is going on is denounced as a wild abuse of freedom.
Before I come to that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I begin by welcoming the Gracious Speech. It is clear that we shall have an exceptionally busy Session. Sixteen major Bills have already been announced and, if previous Sessions are anything to go by, there will be several more to come. There is much for Conservative Members to welcome. The whole House can welcome measures such as the proposed legislation to protect children, and Conservative Members can warmly welcome some of the major economic measures, such as the massive privatisation of the electricity industry. Although there are some snags with the water legislation, and some environmental protection needs to be written into it, I support that measure, too. In short, there is still plenty of momentum within the Government, but sometimes momentum has adverse consequences. On a day when we are debating Home Office affairs, I was a little surprised that the Home Secretary used the phrase "an essay in freedom" to describe his package of measures. He may come to regret that phrase, just as he will regret the phrase that he used when he introduced his White Paper on official secrets, referring to it as "an earthquake in Whitehall".
I admire my right hon. Friend's formidable energy. In some ways, he must be laying claim to being the most productive Home Secretary since Asquith, with three major Bills in this Session alone. However, when, with all that momentum, the Home Secretary makes his judgment
Column 153on where the delicate balance should be struck between freedom and security, I am not convinced that he is quite right. There is considerable scope in some of the Bills for radical amendments. When I wonder why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has sometimes drawn the line in what I would regard as the wrong place, I believe that much of that is due to the somewhat malevolent influence of that Tasmanian figure that Her Majesty's Government would much rather forget, Mr. Peter Wright. When the day comes for my right hon. Friend's statue to be erected in the courtyard of the Home Office at Queen Anne's Gate, I rather hope that the sculptor concerned will have the sense of humour to erect in some small corner of the statue's purlieus a cheeky plastic gnome effigy of Mr. Wright complete with ocker hat and corks dangling from it.
The essay of freedom about which we have heard deserves a few black marks and almost all are directly attributable to Mr. Wright. For example, the reform of the Official Secrets Act is clearly, in one sense, a step in the right direction. It could hardly be anything else, given the discredited 1911 Act. However, why would a Government resist the prior publication defence if "Spycatcher" had not made a fool of the Law Officers' litigation for months and created a situation where one could buy "Spycatcher" in bookshops all over the world but could not buy it in this country?
Whoever heard of the doctrine of absolute, lifelong, eternal confidentiality until the Wright case came along? Whoever heard of the notion that a responsible BBC radio programme, such as "My Country, Right or Wrong", which contained measured contributions from former members of the security services about oversight bodies, parliamentary accountability and methods of communicating with Ministers, would by yanked off the air in a hail of writs and bans for months, before being reinstated without a single comma being taken out? Whoever would have heard of such steps if it had not been for the over-reaction to the Peter Wright case? There was a time when Ministers, even officials of the security services, could do as they can in the United States, and write policy articles and books which do not refer to operational matters, without all this hysterical reaction, provided that they cleared it and had it properly vetted. We should return to that position.
I deeply regret that the Government apparently propose to sweep away the vital section of the 1911 Act which made it an defence to leak or divulge a secret if one could prove that one had acted in the interests of the state. Those key words were the defence of many who were not prosecuted, such as civil servants who briefed Sir Winston Churchill shortly before the 1939 war about the lack of preparedness of Britain's aircraft defences. Those words were instrumental in ensuring that Mr. Duncan Sandys, who took similar patriotic action, was not prosecuted. They have provided a safeguard.
Whatever we call the defence--the public interest defence, the iniquity defence or the interests of the state defence--it is, as the right hon. Member for Devonport said, something of a litmus test of the Government's bad intentions to see it being chucked out of the window in such a cavalier manner.
Column 154Over-reaction to Peter Wright has damaged the Security Service Bill, which was brought before the House today. In one sense, the Bill is a good step forward. I am glad that the security services are being put on a proper statutory basis, and to that extent I welcome the Bill. Like the right hon. Member for Devonport, I spent part of the morning reading the majestic words and language of the Maxwell Fyfe directive and comparing it with the somewhat weasel words of the Bill. I was reminded of the contrast between Cranmer's English and some of the words of the alternative service book in the Anglican rite, but I must not get drawn into a theological discourse. Leaving aside the Bill's wording, which needs much tidying up, the main flaw is the missing of a great opportunity. It will leave Britain as the only major democracy in the English-speaking world with no independent system of oversight of the security and intelligence services. The message of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was, in effect, "Trust me and the Prime Minister. Go on trusting me and the Prime Minister." I mean no disrespect to my right hon. Friends when I say that to trust busy Ministers to give the sort of thorough supervision and oversight of the security services that is needed is the triumph of hope over experience. We have heard before that ministerial supervision has been tightened and improved and will in future ensure that everything in the security services' garden is as efficient, effective and well-cultivated as possible. I took the trouble today to remind myself of the last ministerial statement on the accountability to Ministers of the security services. It was delivered by the then Home Office Minister, Dr. Shirley Summerskill, on 28 July 1977. She made her statement against a background of unease, which was being expressed, about the efficiency and adequacy of the security services and the control of them. Dr. Summerskill said that it is
"the tradition in this country that the service is accountable to Ministers. Parliament accepts that the accountability must be to Ministers rather than to Parliament, and trusts Ministers to discharge that responsibility faithfully. There are
arrangements--reviewed and further improved only last year--for giving effect to this accountability to Ministers. I am authorised to assure the House that on the basis of those arrangements my right hon. Friends are confident that the service concerned is carrying out its duties within the limits laid down in the directive to the Director-General issued by the then Home Secretary in September 1952 and which remains in force.
My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will continue to undertake a close oversight of the work of the Security Service".--[ Official Report, 28 July 1977 ; Vol. 936, c. 1224.]
I heard that statement and I could not help feeling that something new was happening and that supervision and oversight of the security services were to be in firm and safe hands.
What happened? Dr. Summerskill's assurances were followed by a series of near-disasters. The Security Commission's report on the Bettaney case revealed a lamentable state of affairs in the management of the security services along with their procedures and accountability. When we consider the handling of the Blunt affair and the comic opera involving Peter Wright and supporting singers such as Chapman Pincher, we must surely come to the view that we need something better than the degree of supervision that can possibly be provided by
Column 155any ministerial arrangements that involve those who bear the work load and carry the burdens of the modern Cabinet Minister. Independent oversight is not merely a process for ensuring that security services do not get out of control. In some ways, that is the lesser of two problems because I believe that on the whole the Security Service does honourable, patriotic and effective work for the country. My worries are more concerned with its efficiency and judgment. Is it doing a good job in fighting terrorism? Is it allocating its substantial financial resources correctly between anti-terrorist activities and counter- intelligence? Does it have a good reputation within the country? On all these issues, independent oversight would be a tremendous force for good.
The United States Government have repeatedly shown that that is so. We should examine closely the record of the Senate and House committees and the work carried out by people such as Senator Malcolm Wallop and Senator Goldwater. Time and again, the United States security services were strengthened by independent oversight. Accordingly, I think that we are missing an opportunity. I am not convinced that our secret world is as effective as it could be. I think that outside constructive and patriotic voices would help. The motto of the great Tory democrat Lord Randolph Churchill was "Trust the people". I am resentful that the Security Service Bill reflects no trust in the people's representatives in Parliament. It will not allow them any share in the future oversight of the security services. The suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there would be enormous problems if Members, including Privy Councillors, were to go behind the barrier of secrecy does not stand up to serious practical examination. The Falklands committee, which considered all the intelligence details of that time, went behind the barrier. Among its members were distinguished Members of Parliament. There were no damaging leaks, troubles or sinister results. That is as good an example as any to show that parliamentarians--independent men of judgment--could play a much more serious role than that which they are invited to take on by the Bill, which, in effect, slams the door rather rudely on any sort of independent oversight of or involvement by Parliament with the security services.
In one important area I link Europe with the activities of the security services. Under the plans for the single market, which received only a glancing reference in the Gracious Speech, we are subject, among other things, to majority voting on the crucial issue of frontier control. As Britain has to deal more than any other member state with terrorism, the safeguarding of our frontiers is a crucial gut issue of national sovereignty that should be decided by Parliament in accordance with the wishes of a nation state that has daily to deal with the problems of terrorism.
It is an issue which was nobly highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her Bruges speech, and I have been worried by the European reaction to the speech. It seems that almost every European leader, including Chancellor Khol and Mr. Rocard of France, has said, in effect, "We do not think much of this. We are on a completely different tack. We are on the tack of European federalism, of a united states of Europe." It seems that the attitude of European leaders is that the little deviations of my right hon. Friend will not matter very much in the great march of European new history towards the future.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Various interpretations have been placed by some of our European partners on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Bruges. I agree that my right hon. Friend did not speak against the concept of Europe as Conservative Members see it. Perhaps it did not help when, during the Conservative party conference, some delegates interpreted the Bruges speech as aggressive and antagonistic. Does my hon. Friend think that those comments caused others to think in that way?
Mr. Aitken : I am not sure to what extent the leaders of Europe read closely the small print of the report of the Conservative party conference, admirable though it is and exciting though the European debate was. My hon. Friend is right in one instance, however. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that there has been a negative reaction throughout the chancelleries of Europe as they used to be called, towards what many of us would regard as an admirable definition of the European ideal, which is a Europe of independent co-operating nation states.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Does my hon. Friend agree that confirmation of the excellence of the Prime Minister's Bruges speech has been given in the deep hostility with which our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) greeted it?
Mr. Aitken : I believe that I have said enough about our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) recently, but I have sympathy with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).
As I sit here, as an ordinary Back Bencher, watching European legislation over which we have no real scrutiny or control cascade into the House, I see parliamentary sovereignty eroding almost weekly. The newly elected hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is in his place of Parliament. I can understand, at least, why some people in Scotland may now be asking themselves what point there is in United Kingdom nationhood, when we are seeing the powers of the mother of Parliaments--the United Kingdom Parliament--being eroded. No notice is being taken of the Bruges speech, and there is a steady shift in legislative authority to non-elected people in Brussels.
That is a real worry for the security of the union in the future, and I hope that there will still be time to check that drift. After all, we have an unwritten constitution and a system of government which have been in place for almost 900 years, whereas some of the European countries have constitutions which have changed half a dozen times or more this century. I believe that Germany has had five constitutions and the fifth republic of France is only 48 years old, and has had many a hasty predecessor.
I hope that when we look at the Gracious Speech carefully, we shall see in it also a warning by its light touch on Europe that something needs to be done to halt the drift of our parliamentary sovereignty away from the House to Brussels.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : The debate is beginning to get to the central question, which is not the details of how we handle the security services or the official secrecy, but the constitutional relationships that are changed by the legislation that is to come before us. I believe that I am expressing an anxiety that goes far beyond the party of
Column 157which I am a member about the evidence that has come to light regarding the threats to freedom by those who were supposed to defend it. Therefore, I consider that the proposals made by the Government in the Prime Minister's speech from the Throne are far from being evidence of liberation, and offer evidence of tightening up. We should look at that first.
There is no question whatsoever--I am not seeking to blame everybody in the security services--that there have been people working in high positions in MI5 and MI6, who have used the power vested in them under the so-called well-tried mechanisms of the Maxwell Fyfe directive to undermine political democracy in Britain.
Secondly, those people have done so outside any form of ministerial control. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) has been Home Secretary, and others in Governments of whom I have been a part have occupied that position, and I cannot believe that they knew what was going on. If they did not know what was going on, the Maxwell Fyfe directive was wholly ineffective in its operation--and I understand it is to be weakened in the new legislation.
Thirdly, when evidence of this behaviour came to light, far from the Government pursuing the law breakers for their law breaking, they pursued the man who described the law breaking for his description of it. A Government who purport to pursue a policy of law and order made no issue of the fact that in Mr. Peter Wright's book--after all, he was a serious and respected member of the intelligence services--he described crimes that were committed, and made no attempt to investigate those crimes or bring him to justice. His only offence was that he wrote about them.
Then, of course, we come up against the justification for their action, and that is where the constitutional areas become most important. Anyone who has read any of the histories on these matters will know that the security services do not feel in any way responsible to the Government of the day. They believe they are responsible to the Crown. They represent the Crown in order to deal with subversion. I shall try to define the Crown and subversion in a moment.
Two new elements have rightly been brought into the debate by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), which must be put upon the record. First of all, the British security services are supervised completely by the American security services. I know that because I had responsibilities for many years for those areas that were a part of what was called the "special relationship". The Americans control our security services, supervise them, lay down the rules under which they operate, and warn them against people whom they regard as unreliable in Britain, because that is the condition upon which the United States makes nuclear weapons available to us. The second threat--rather more shadowy but none the less real--is that, within a federal Europe, it is the intention of the Commission that security would be seen as a federal function, in part because the internal frontiers will cease to matter, and the Community will have to tackle what it defines as subversion on a federal basis. The methods used by the security services must be set out. There is widespread vetting not only of civil servants, but, of course, of those in defence industries. The Clerk of the House and all the officials of the House are vetted by
Column 158the security services. This was revealed in evidence submitted to the Committee of Privileges of which I am a member. That says a lot for the division between the legislature and the Executive, because the Executive vets the officials of the legislature. The BBC is vetted down to the level of anyone is involved in the preparation of current affairs or news. The research assistants of Members of Parliament are vetted. We know that from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who brought the matter to the House.
The security services penetrate other services and actions of our national life. I shall give three examples. Cecil King, who purported to be a newspaper proprietor or a manager, was an agent of MI5, as was Tom Driberg, a former chairman of the Labour party. Lord Rothschild, who, when I worked closely with him, I took to be an industrialist brought in to help our think tank, was actually working for MI5 throughout that period.
Massive telephone interception and the opening of letters occur. Charles II nationalised the Post Office in 1660 because he wanted to see what people were writing to one another. Therefore, the Home Secretary is carrying on a good tradition in trying to intercept postal and telephone services and to legalise it. The Home Secretary is the most appropriate person to be moving the Bill, because when I tried to make a speech in 1976 in a church in his constituency at Burford to celebrate the Levellers, he wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Science to get the grant for the Workers' Educational Association withdrawn. He is therefore consistent in his opposition to dissent in any century by anybody.
Mr. Hurd rose --
Mr. Benn : The right hon. Gentleman, with the sort of naivety that adds to his charm, confesses to the charge that I laid against him, that when he heard I was to speak at a church in Burford about the Levellers, he wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Science to try to bring pressure to bear so as to withdraw a grant from the WEA that had invited me. He has confirmed my argument, and he is consistent. He does not believe in dissent in any century, including the present one.
The other area in which the security services have operated is in redefining subversion. There is no doubt that the phrase that became popular during the miners' strike of "the enemy within" had been defined much earlier by the security services. The enemy within includes the trade union movement and many members of the Labour party and peace movement. That definition was undoubtedly one of the factors that led to the attempt to destroy Harold Wilson. In my opinion, it was also used, but for different reasons, to remove the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), because the security services thought that he was too weak.
The methods used by the security services include the collection of damaging information and fabricating misinformation--as with the forging of Ted Short's bank account, which was leaked to Chapman Pincher. So much for lifelong confidentiality, when the security services regularly use certain journalists to feed out damaging
Column 159information to destroy people they do not like. One cannot overlook the fact that Peter Wright confirmed Anthony Nutting's claim that Sir Anthony Eden ordered the assassination of another head of state, President Nasser. Anthony Nutting confirmed on television what Wright had written.
The question one must now ask is, what safeguards will there be under the new Act? Supposing Ted Short, as Lord President, had appealed to discover whether his bank account had been forged, to whom would his appeal have gone? Would it have gone to the Cabinet? No. Would it have gone to the Prime Minister? No. It would have gone to a commissioner appointed for the purpose by a previous Government.
When Bruce Kent's telephone was tapped, what safeguards would have existed then? If he had written to whoever it may have been and asked, "Is my phone being tapped?", the only answer he would have received was not whether his phone was being tapped but whether the security services were abusing their rights--and those rights are covered by warrant and by a commission. The victims do not know what is being done to them, and the perpetrators do not wish to make complaints that might reveal the crimes they are perpetrating. The exceptions are one or two people such as Clive Ponting and Cathy Massiter, who were moved by their consciences, to act.
I turn to the matter of lifelong confidentiality to the Crown, which presumably should have bound Peter Wright. Who is the Crown? Did the Queen tell Peter Wright to try to destroy the Prime Minister? Obviously not. Did the Prime Minister tell Peter Wright to destroy himself? Obviously not. Did the Home Secretary tell Peter Wright to try to destroy the Government? Obviously not. The Crown is the code name we use for those central areas of Government in defence, intelligence and international relations--a state within the state--that the Government, and, I regret to say, previous Governments, did not wish to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or discussion. The Crown is a term used to cover a concrete emplacement surrounded by barbed wire that the Home Secretary thinks needs fresh protection. It is not that he intends it to be subject to public scrutiny. I asked the Home Secretary whether Ministers, who, after all, are Crown servants, will be covered by the new rules. It will be difficult to bind the Prime Minister to lifelong confidentiality as Bernard Ingham, on her instruction, breaches it at 11 o'clock every morning for the benefit of selected lobby correspondents who never make clear what has gone on. Are we really saying that anyone who is elected to Parliament, who becomes a Minister and discovers things he believes that it is in the public interest should be made known, will be bound to confidentiality for life? Or will anybody else? I have cited Ministers as they are uniquely accountable to those who elect them.
The reality is that there is nothing different about security. In its proper sense, security is part of the country's defence forces, and no one denies that the country needs defence forces. But contrast the way security is treated with the other parts of the defence forces. Every year Parliament debates defence policy, but it never debates security policy--I am not talking about security operations. Parliament never discusses the definition of a subversive person--which is currently based on a phrase written years ago by a civil servant for Lord Harris in the House of Lords. We have never discussed whether as a
Column 160Parliament we believe that being a member of CND makes a person subversive. That was decided by the Ministry of Defence, which told Cathy Massiter to bug Bruce Kent.
Parliament debates defence policy and votes a budget for the country's defence establishment. It does not know the budget of the security establishment. Parliament knows the Chiefs of the Defence Staff and can ask parliamentary questions about defence matters. The issue is only confused by those who say that we cannot be told about individual security operations. Of course nobody wants to know a rumour that a bomber is coming to London. We do not want a parliamentary question that leads to the Minister responsible replying, "We think that a bomber is staying at a Bayswater hotel." That is not the point at issue. The question is whether a state within the state, employing people with no feeling of responsibility to the Government elected by the people of this country, can continue as it is.
The Government wish to conceal information because that suits their book. I dare say that all Governments will want to conceal information-- [Interruption.] It is not my purpose to make a party point. I hope that hon. Members will give me some credit. I am trying to raise a matter that is of equal concern in all parts of the House and to every elector. It would not alter matters very much if my right hon. and hon. Friends were occupying the Government Benches and those of hon. Gentlemen were seated on the Opposition Benches. I am clear about that. If hon. Gentlemen will look at the record, they will find that, as a Cabinet Minister, I raised the same questions on the Labour party's national executive and submitted a memorandum that warned of the dangers. That was 10 years ago.
When one considers that the Government sent in the police to remove the Zircon film, and the prosecutions of Tisdall and Ponting, one realises that the real conflict concerns both sides of the House and those who elect us. We have heard much about the oxygen of publicity for Sinn Fein. Democracy lives by the oxygen of information. If one cuts off the oxygen of information and releases instead the poisonous gas of secrecy, misinformation and news management, one destroys the basis on which this House safeguards our people. The House of Commons is the real guarantor of the liberties of the people, not those individuals in little offices who have their own ideas about who is subversive and who engage in bugging, blackmailing and in destroying the reputations of those whom they do not like.
Democracy's second safeguard is conscience. There is no substitute in law, administrative action or court ruling for the person, be they man or woman, who says, "What is being done is wrong and I shall speak my mind and take the consequences." If one removes the safeguard of conscience from people who, in the course of their work, may come across something they feel it would be in the public interest to divulge--whether one gaols them, punishes them, or makes them into public villains--they would only be doing what we told the Germans at the Nuremberg trials they should have done, which was to disregard unjust orders--[ Hon. Members :-- "No!"] Of course that is what the Nuremberg trials were all about.
Parliament must protect these principles. In many ways I share the view of the hon. Member for Thanet, South. Next week I shall have been here 38 years. I have never known a House of Commons that has been so craven in surrendering one of its rights after
Column 161powers to the EEC, accepting 120 foreign bases, and now, in the name of security, handing over even greater powers to the Executive. If we do not stand up here and now it will be too late--
We must make a stand here and now or we shall find that, in the name of freedom, we are surrendering our liberties.
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : These six days when we consider the Government's programme are a proper time in which to consider the direction in which we are headed. I do not wish to take up matters that are far above me and have to do with what is right, whether Wright was right or wrong, and so on. I want to bring the debate on home affairs down to a much more genuinely homely level.
Although the issues that have been mentioned by many of my peers are of great importance, most important of all are the policies that affect the great majority of people in the country, and especially those that affect low achievers and the unfortunate. It is not that the Government do not want to help people who need help most, but individual private hells can frequently be built out of the Government's best intentions. Many of the policies advanced as being for the good of the people confront enormous stumbling blocks. In 1901, there were only 50,000 people over the age of 80 in this country ; now, there are more than 680,000. By the year 2000 there will be almost 1 million people over 80. At present, 2.4 people have to earn the retirement benefits that we pay to each retired person. Within the life of two Parliaments that figure will drop to 1.8 people per retired person. If I am spared, by the time I reach 70 only about 1.4 people will have to earn each retired person's benefits.
Whether or not the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quoted correctly recently, we must consider the future of the benefits that we give people. If targeting is to be useful we must recognise that it is better to give one genuinely needy person a square meal than to give many others a biscuit. Some people do not need help. I hope that my mother and mother-in- law will forgive me for saying that they do not need help, yet they can get almost as much help as people in genuine need.
If the Government's intentions are good, as I believe they are--if I did not, I would not be a member of this party, and proud to be so--we must ask how and whether targeting is going to work. It is obvious that it is not working now.
I want to tell the House about two cases that came to my notice in last Friday's advice bureau. The first concerns a man in a Cheshire home who is dying of multiple sclerosis. His wife has five children and was told that under the new system she will receive £58 a week with which to look after them, instead of £89. That is £31 a week less. The DSS advised her that it could give her a lot more money if only she would obtain a legal separation from her husband. That was not the Government's intention, I am sure, but it shows that the system is not targeted aright.